"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
Oh my God. Three things combined to make this past week the most frenetic in MGoBlog recruit-trackin' history: Will Campbell, the rise of the UA game as a thing you have to pay attention to, and a flood of articles released for free on both games. Today I'm going to dump about 5k words on recruiting on you; I've split things up into two groups.
This is group one: scouting reports and impressions from the seven committed recruits who participated in All-American festivities over the past week. (There were actually eight but the Will Campbell stuff went in the Will Campbell post.) Group two is a standard, if mondo, version of Tuesday Recruitin'. That's later today.
OL Taylor Lewan
Rivals' Barton Simmons on AZ OL Taylor Lewan:
Lewan's body is still developing but it looks like he has the ability to really be a great offensive tackle. He is lean right now but is extremely long and looks like he has the ability to add weight. Lewan uses his hands well, stays back in his pass set and has the feet for tackle. Lewan will have an extremely high ceiling as he gets stronger and bigger in a college weight program.
Another take from the same guy:
It's hard not to like Lewan's potential at tackle. He is light in the pants right now and he's going to need a couple of years to develop in a college weight program but once he does, he has shown that he has some terrific tools to utilize. Lewan is an athletic tackle with a long frame who looks to be every bit of 6-7. He has good feet and balance and as he gets more weight behind him to allow him to handle power moves, he will be a tough matchup for any pass rusher.
Barry Every's (very similar) take:
ASSETS: Excellent height, long arms, and really athletic feet.
AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT: Needs to gain at least 25 to 30 pounds in order to become an effective run blocker.
WHAT WAS MOST IMPRESSIVE IN PRACTICE: His lateral movement and natural knee bend was probably the best of all the linemen on the White team.
CONCLUSION: Lewan has the ideal frame for the strength coaches at Michigan to work with. Lewan is almost definitely redshirt material, but after that watch out. The sky is the limit for this long armed mauler.
This is a consistent chorus: needs a redshirt and might need two years—when he's a redshirt freshman Schilling and Dorrestein will be seniors anyway—but has major upside.
Scout's Brandon Huffman:
"The first person that I saw that really stood out to me was Taylor Lewan," said Scout.com West Coast Regional Manager Brandon Huffman. "You look at him and you see a guy that is really reminiscent of Jake Long. He's ridiculously athletic. I saw him for the first time at a combine back in May. Physically he is as impressive an offensive lineman as you'll see in the country."
ESPN noted a practice battle between Lewan and Oklahoma commit Justin Chaisson, who had two sacks in the game itself:
It was an athletic draw between White offensive tackle Taylor Lewan (Scottsdale, Ariz./Chaparral) and White defensive end Justin Chaisson (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman) during one-on-one pass rushing drills, as both players showed great feet and quickness.
On the downside, Lewan's inexperience and lack of size were occasionally mentioned:
First-year offensive tackle Taylor Lewan (Scottsdale, Ariz./Chaparral) has exciting upside. Still, his limited experience -- he played D-line for most of his prep career -- is being exposed at times against this level of competition.
All told, it sounds like Lewan was better than expected and should be moving up somewhat in revised rankings.
DE Craig Roh
ASSETS: High energy guy that plays with passion. He also has incredibly low pad level at the point of attack.
AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT: Needs to add at least 25 more pounds to be an effective run stopper in the Big Ten.
WHAT WAS MOST IMPRESSIVE IN PRACTICE: Roh was really quick off the edge and took advantage of the fact that there was no real left offensive tackle on the White team.
CONCLUSION: Roh has a lot of upside but is most likely a redshirt candidate that needs to get bigger and stronger in the Wolverine weight room in 2009.
Some practice notes from ESPN have an approving mention:
Playing next to Brown, Craig Roh (Scottsdale, Ariz./Chaparral) has been very disruptive this week with his inside spin move. The heady defensive end showed a nice counter of that by coming back to the outside and having good success against offensive tackle Stavion Lowe (Brownwood, Texas).
Roh then went out and was perhaps the most impressive player in the UA game not named Matt Barkley:
TEAM WHITE: Craig Roh – The Michigan commit was constantly pressuring the quarterback. He is great off the edge, he has a big time spin move, and he never slows down until the play is officially dead. He will need to add weight and strength to become better against the run, but he is a pass rush specialist that could make an early impact in Ann Arbor.
Rivals' Jamie Newberg echoed those sentiments:
Roh got better as the week of practice progressed. He had a big first half. Once he gains some size to his frame, watch out.
And the Texas bloggers at Barking Carnival had no reason to mention a kid from Arizona going to Michigan but did anyway:
Craig Roh DE (Michigan)
Straight baller that showed a Dwight Freeney spin on Kelley for a sack and sacked/tackled Russel Shepard in space. Had a handful of QB pressures over the course of the game. Rich Rod got himself a good one.
Roh's pad level was repeatedly mentioned, as he has a unique stance in which he set himself up at nearly the offensive lineman's knees and shoots forward at the snap, which sets up his spin move as OLs are terrified of letting Roh outside of him.
Overall: sounds like a major leap forward for Roh, possibly into the latter half of top-100 lists that he's not too far outside of now.
DE Anthony LaLota
ASSETS: Excellent height, great frame and long arms.
AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT: Really needs to work on pad level at the point of attack. He cannot get by on size and strength alone against this level of competition.
WHAT WAS MOST IMPRESSIVE IN PRACTICE: Seems to be a high-effort guy that really wants to get better as a defensive end.
CONCLUSION: Most likely a redshirt candidate next season as he continues to learn his position and acclimate to playing against stiffer competition. His excellent frame is meant for long-term success.
…and that's all, really. LaLota didn't do much in the Army game, and while that's nothing approaching definitive not standing out means he's probably ranked a little high. There was a Lichtenfels mention that he was a "stock down" guy, but that's behind a paywall.
Lalota may slip some in the revised rankings but shouldn't see his fourth star threatened.
WR Jeremy Gallon
Gallon had a very good week despite being the leetlest man in all the land.
Gallon's coach this week is Terry Smith, who you may remember from the Justin King recruiting saga, and he's big (ha!) on Gallon:
At wide receiver, Michigan commit Jeremy Gallon has been far and away the most productive receiver. He has touchdowns catches in each of the practices and has a knack for getting open and sneaking behind the defense. At 5 feet 8, Gallon is small enough to creep through openings and then pop open for the pass.
"He's a pleasant surprise," Smith said. "We knew he was a good athlete but making the adjustment to receiver was always a big question mark. He's scored touchdowns in every practice and he seems to have the knack to get open and make the play."
When Gallon committed out of nowhere he was in the Rivals 100 because one particular analyst (Barry Every) was over the moon about him. He dropped out soon after for good reasons—he's a smurf and he projects to a position he didn't really play in college—but maybe his strong performance in the slot this week sees him re-enter; he's definitely due for a jump up the Scout rankings, where he's a three-star.
Scout's Bob Lichtenfels' take (warning: "stud" deployment):
"I think Gallon is a stud," Lichtenfels said of the 5-9, 175-pound pass-catcher from Apopka, Fla. "I think for Rich Rodriguez, that's the next Darius Reynaud. He doesn't have elite speed, but his quickness and shiftiness is just out of sight."
Gallon was the star of practices all week and was effective in the scrimmage and during the game itself. He is tiny but he has great quickness and he is smart. He knows how to find space between the cornerback and the safety and catches almost everything thrown his way. He'll be a slot receiver at the next level and will be hard to cover, using his lack of size to his advantage.
Gallon's height will always give people an easy out when it comes time to rank someone else ahead of him, but he answered a lot of questions about his ability to play receiver over the week and should be seeing a bump.
CB Justin Turner
Perhaps the weekend's most encouraging development outside of William Campbell's commitment was the excellent play of OH CB Justin Turner. Though Turner got beat by Pat Patterson for a touchdown, he followed that up with a spectacular diving interception at the sideline. More importantly, during the practices he established himself as one of the best corners at the game. That's important, as if Turner struggled and looked like a future safety Michigan would currently have zero committed corners in a year they need two and would probably take three if they can find enough guys they like.
Rivals put him on his team's "hot 11" for his performance during the game:
Turner is a big corner who can move and support the run and he was all over the field in the game. He led the East with seven tackles, had a big interception and helped keep the ever-dangerous Rueben Randle from breaking any big gains. He's a rarity with his combination of size, speed and ball skills at his position.
"He's a guy from day one that I lobbied for as one of the top four or five safeties in the nation. I actually think after watching him this week that he can play corner. His skill set is just (unique). He can play safety, he's great in coverage, and he'll come up and he'll hit you. He could play cover corner in the Big Ten easily. Every coach in the country wants a guy that's 6-2 and can cover."
Turner was named the #8 player on his team by Rivals:
Turner is a big kid who was forced into playing cornerback for the East and did a very solid job all week. In the game itself he showed off his tackling ability and ball skills and showed he's either going to be a rare corner who supports the run well or a ball-hawking safety who isn't afraid to come up and hit. Either way Michigan gets a steal.
I don't know about "steal," since Turner had offers from Ohio State and many others early, but I'll take a good player. He was also named the #2 tackler at the entire Army Bowl by Rivals.
K Brendan Gibbons
Gibbons was 3/4 on extra points, with the miss a blocked one due to a combination of a poor hold (from Jeremy Gallon of all people) and a missed assignment, and 1/2 on field goals from 35 (the make) and 46. His kickoffs were long, though.
Kickers don't get much attention, but Gibbons did get a scouting report from an unusual source: NJ OL Eric Shrive, a Penn State commit and Army teammate:
Michigan lost kicker Anthony Fera when he decommitted and signed with Penn State a few months back. But Shrive says the Wolverines landed on their feet in the kicking department. Brendan Gibbons is the East kicker, and Shrive said he was teeing the ball up at the opposite 45-yard line and booting the thing through the uprights and onto the running track beyond the field. That's a 65-yarder with some distance to spare.
"Our kicker is nasty," Shrive raved.
Kickers remain a crapshoot; at the very least Gibbons looked the part.
OLB Isaiah Bell
ESPN is much higher on Bell than either Rivals or Scout and they were the only service to mention Bell this week. Here's a small bit from the UA practices:
With the employment of a lot of Cover 3, this week's practice has showcased several safeties playing down in the box over slots -- and looking impressive. Black's Isaiah Bell (Youngstown, Ohio/Liberty) came into this game with a reputation for his great run-stopping skills, but he has surprised me with his ability to open his hips and turn and run with faster slots.
Put thoughts of safety from your mind, as Bell showed up at 205 and should push 220 by his sophomore year: dude is a linebacker. But he may be one of a new breed of S/LB hybrid sorts that alternate between run-stuffing and covering slots and so forth.
My guess as to the relative stock levels of the guys performing:
- STOCK UP: Lewan, Gallon, Turner, Roh
- STEADY: Campbell, Bell, Gibbons
- STOCK DOWN: LaLota
If the impressions gleaned here are accurate, that's a net uptick in Michigan's recruits with impressive performances from Turner, Roh, and Gallon outweighing the slight disappointment from LaLota. That goes double because LaLota's relatively new to football and most pundits still said he had excellent upside. We'll see when the rating services release their final revamp for the class of 2009 in a couple weeks.
1/4/2009 – Michigan 74, Illinois 64 – 11-3, 1-1 Big Ten
With a couple minutes left in Saturday's game against Illinois the Illini brought the ball up down four. Even with the students absent, Crisler fairly buzzed with nervous anticipation at a critical juncture. Michigan went to man; Laval Lucas-Perry moved up to take the point guard on as he crossed midcourt.
Lucas-Perry was afforded a moment in the window provided by Illinois setting a play, and used it to smile, big and toothy, before returning to the task at hand.
The thing that jumped out the most in the pre-game was basically the same thing: DeShawn Sims smiling wide before he was introduced as the starter, then settling down to business. After the shell-shock of last year, of the last ten years, it seems that Michigan players are periodically struck by the thought "hey… this is fun!"
Fans, too. When Zack Gibson saw a vacated lane late in the shot clock and beat Illinois' lumbering center off the dribble and threw it down, everyone roared and I looked around me to make sure there were 10,000 people who also saw that. And I saw people smiling, shocked and pleased and I just can't tell you what else because what in the hell is going on?
In the next timeout, Eric Puls came up behind Gibson and put a towel on his shoulders like he was a prizefighter. Gibson tried, with only moderate success, to look nonchalant about the whole thing.
So here we are, two games into the Big Ten season and 1-1. The Illinois game was critical. Start off 0-2 at home in a league where friendly confines matter way too much and it's a tough slog to get to the 9-9 that puts you on the bubble (unless Michigan upsets UConn, in which case 9-9 is a solid berth). It's still a tough slog, but one that looks doable.
The danger of Michigan's wildly divergent nonconference schedule, which had four tough games and then cupcake city, baby(!) was that the UCLA and Duke games were extreme outliers and the game-in, game-out performance of the team would just not be good enough to claw into the top half of the Big Ten. A couple games later, that chance is more remote. Not a whole lot more remote, but they're at least in the class of teams like Wisconsin and Illinois and should be clearly better than the Indiana/Iowa/Northwestern/Penn State collection of teams towards the bottom of the conference.
Not that they won't lose a game or maybe two to that set of four teams, but if they go 6-1 against those guys they need find only two more wins against the rest of the conference to get to .500, and 3 to get to what must be a tourney-clinching 10-8. Baby steps, always.
- The observations about teeth were made possible by the students' winter break; that allowed yrs truly to sit in the second row behind the Michigan bench.
Unfortunately the ambient noise (WHO WANTS A FREE TEEEEEE SHIRT) of Crisler drowned out what Beilein was saying during commercial breaks and timeouts, but I did catch a couple things.
One: about midway through the first half DeShawn Sims pulls down an offensive rebound and goes back up with it, getting hacked from behind; no call. Illinois takes the transition opportunity down and scores. There's a timeout on the floor and Sims goes to the ref, declaring what just happened to be "bullshit". Beilein yanks him immediately, and chews him out—sort of, he's not exactly Bob Knight—about this being the second consecutive game he's done that and Michigan can't afford for him to get a technical every time the refs blow a call. (Word to that, yo. Michigan would give up 20 technical free throws a game and finish with just Eric Puls on the court.)
Two: every time Michigan would give up a bucket in the 1-3-1 in the first half, Beilein would explain to the bench what went wrong. "You've got to get up in that guy to prevent the skip," etc. etc. etc.
- Sitting close to the bench gave me some insight into the value of Merritt and Lee: they were chatty organizers on defense whenever in the game and (in Lee's case, from the bench), shouting out instructions and generally attempting to make Michigan's array of switches work.
- Speaking of which: it looked like Michigan's man to man has given up on the idea of fighting through screens and just switches all the time. Makes sense when you've got four guys basically the same size on the court, but it also leads to some awkward incidents where Kelvin Grady is under the basket checking a 6'6" guy. This ended poorly.
- Manny alternated some rough possessions with his usual slithering to the bucket. His three-point shooting was pretty rough, and he's got to be a little more aware of when to kick out. Too many tough shots and turnovers so far.
- The above-picture dunk wasn't Gibson's only thunderous finish of the day, but on his first dunk he overestimated his athleticism and nearly killed himself. Ball still went in.
As long as we're on the subject: Gibson's always been shockingly good at putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim when the lane gets vacated. He's too slow to do it most of the time, as he'll pick up a charge if there's anyone to rotate, but, man, as soon as he put the ball on the floor I was like "this is going to be a gumpy white guy dunk."
- Novak has won a lot of minutes, and deservedly, but what happened to Jevohn Shepherd? Shepherd was playing pretty well in the nonconference portion of the schedule and provides much-needed size and defense to Michigan's normally Lilliputian lineup. Surely he can pick up ten minutes spotting Harris and Novak?
- Good to see LLP taking some guys off the dribble; hopefully as he gets more comfortable we'll see an increasingly diverse game from him.
MI DT Will Campbell recommitted on Saturday. The dossier:
GURU RATINGS & CHATTER
|5*, #4 DT||5*, #4 DT, #25 overall||79, #22 OT|
Will Campbell first became known to Michigan fans when he committed at Michigan's summer camp a year and a half ago, when he was a rising junior. An early commit like that presaged big things—offers, rankings—and when Scout and Rivals started publishing lists of these things Campbell was indeed awarded the coveted fifth star and took his spot as the top recruit in Michigan's class. Then he decommitted, took a bunch of visits, scared the crap out of everyone, and eventually rejoined the fold. Relief goes here.
Campbell's guru ratings are reminiscent of those given to a Cass Tech defensive tackle from a couple years ago who considered Michigan and LSU but came up with the wrong answer: Joseph Barksdale. Michigan told Barksdale he'd be best as an offensive lineman, which he didn't want to hear, causing a rift. Meanwhile, both Scout and Rivals ranked him as a five star DT; ESPN said "no!" and declared him a good, not great, offensive tackle prospect.
Who was right? Eh, both, sort of. Barksdale came to LSU a defensive tackle and instantly ended up on the other side of the ball—ESPN was right—but then established himself an immediate, excellent starter as a redshirt freshman—ESPN was wrong. That latter accuracy is likely to repeat; on one side you've got two sets of recruiting analysts and virtually every program in the country. On the other you've got a few guys with a track record of goofily leaving off one or two guys every year.
A position switch a la Barksdale is not likely for Campbell, even if he played both ways at the Army All-American game, for one glaring reason: Michigan's depth chart. Michigan returns every offensive lineman on the roster and adds two highly-rated tackle prospects this year. On the other side of the ball, though, Terrance Taylor and Will Johnson exit and the candidates to start next to Mike Martin are a Canadian (Renaldo Sagesse) who saw little time a year ago and a converted fullback (Vince Helmuth) who saw none. Yikes. At a position that usually sees at least three players contributing, that's a scary depth chart.
Campbell's been the subject of dozens of articles since his decommitment, but virtually all of them are like "eeee where's he going." Not many were useful after that became clear, but a few remain relevant. The first came around this time a year ago, when Campbell smoked a wide array of the country's top talent at the Army combine:
Campbell, who is ranked as the nation's No. 55 player for 2009, wanted to show he deserves a much loftier ranking than what he's at currently. He set out to destroy every offensive linemen that was in his path. He did that and more. Using an array of spin moves, bull rushes and pure agility, Campbell couldn't be blocked.
Player after player wanted to test their ability against him, but it didn't matter.
"I want to be an All-American," Campbell said. "I want to be a five-star. That's basically why I came down to San Antonio. I wanted to show that I'm the best defensive tackle in the nation."
He might have just done that.
"He's got great size and great power," Rivals.com recruiting analyst Barry Every said. "I'd like to see him trim up in the belly area a little bit, but he's got it everywhere else. I can't wait to see what he looks like on game tape. He's got the potential to be a five-star guy."
This time around, Campbell was the only player at the Army game to play both ways. His coach (Terry Smith of Gateway High in Pennsylvania, who you may remember from the Justin King recruitment) was very positive about him:
"Campbell is a true Warren Sapp kind of athlete," Smith said. "I saw him out there catching punts, catching passes and then he's making all those tackles on the defensive line. He's fast, he's strong, athletic and he's big."
He's the East team's best defensive lineman according to most. (He was also ranked #12 in the state by SpartanMag.com. ROR.)
More from Smith:
Massive Detroit (Mich.) Cass Tech lineman William Campbell has been working with both the offensive and defensive lines during practice, and Smith said the 6-5, 317-pounder will probably go both ways.
"He's enormous, he's explosive and he's really athletic for a big guy," Smith said. "He's a fast learner. He's a fun-spirited kid who loves the game and that's why we're able to move him on both sides of the ball because he can pick it up. He just enjoys playing the game."
In the game, Campbell consistently drove back double teams and flowed down the line to make a couple tackles, but appeared to take a few plays off. He might have been spying on the QB, or just tired since he was also playing offensive line as well.
Cass Tech coach (and Michigan alum) Thomas Wilcher on his charge:
"I think he's had perseverance," noted Wilcher. "He went through his career here and kept up great academics. He kept up all his schoolwork. He worked out hard every year and he did whatever it took to become the best athlete. No matter what you asked, no matter what you told him, he always achieved that level."
Everyone except USC, and USC seemed leery not because they were skeptical of his talent but because they didn't think he would seriously consider leaving. The finalists other than Michigan were Miami, LSU, Alabama and Florida.
I couldn't dig up any, unfortunately.
FAKE 40 TIME
Nor could I find a 40 time
Eeeeee he commits eeee:
And here's an interview from Scout:
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
Every signing day or thereabouts I run down the recruiting class in detail and provide a "YMRFSPA"—you may remember me from such players as—comparison. Sometimes these are a little flimsy. Jason Avant gets mentioned entirely too much. But here we have a rock-solid comparison: Gabe Watson. Watson was also a simply ginormous five-star defensive tackle recruit some thought would be better on offense. Watson also had rumored motivational issues, as is usual when you're talking about men with their own gravitational pull.
Watson was a slight disappointment during his Michigan career, but only a slight one. Instead of an All-American performer, he was an all-conference one—twice. He's currently contributing to an NFL playoff team.
Campbell's something of a goof but he's less of a softy than the legendarily nice Watson, and Watson's motivational issues were so extreme that he was benched in favor of Pat Massey for the first couple games of his senior year. He was close to the bad end of the effort continuum; Campbell is likely to be less frustrating.
Campbell's got some technique and Barwis issues to deal with, but is coming in early, which should mitigate his freshman unpreparedness considerably; with the depth chart looking like it does Campbell is at least 50-50 to start immediately and is a lock for considerable playing time as a freshman.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Well, if the other two DT recruits stick they're done at a postion of great need, and with great success. Unfortunately, it sounds like it's going to be a battle for both guys until signing day. OK DT Pearlie Graves has talked about a visit to Oklahoma for a while now. Recent scuttlebutt has been most positive, though. The commitment of Jamarkus "Texas Coke Orgy" McFarland helps, and may end Oklahoma's recruitment of Graves. It seems likely he sticks.
LA DT DeQuinta Jones, on the other hand, seems considerably more open. Keep in mind he's never actually been to Michigan's campus, committing unexpectedly after he figured out LSU probably wasn't going offer. That was seemingly because Jay Hopson is one suave dude. Hopson remains a suave dude, but Jones plans visits to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State prior to his Michigan visit.
Though the board doesn't reflect this, my current view of the situation: Graves and Campbell are commits; Jones is open but is probably going to Michigan. With no other recruits on the radar, his decision will determine whether M ends up with two or three DTs in the class.
Late notice, but: what the hell, let's do a CIL of the Army All-American Game. 1PM ET, NBC.
So, for some reason I started googling Michigan's 2010 hockey recruits. Coverage of junior hockey in the US being what it is,—nonexistent—this is usually a fruitless exercise, but Clare did turn up a couple of interesting items. Like this, for instance:
Clare is in white and the "clear loser" of this fight according to the 1996-vintage website dropyourgloves.com, but, hey, you can fight in college anyway. Meanwhile, I missed this article on Clare published shortly after his late November commitment. He's the captain of the U17 team:
The butterflies vanished when he walked into the locker room before his first game and found a 'C' stitched on his jersey, everyone crowding his locker and pelting him with congratulatory slaps on the back.
If anyone doubted the 'C' belonged on his jersey, he did his best to change their minds on his very first shift.
"We were on the faceoff and a kid was giving me crap about something, and he was like 'What you gonna do about it?' and I said, 'You wanna go?'" the 6-2, 185-pound Clare recalled.
They dropped the gloves. Clare's much more than a punching lunk, though. I get the impression he's on track to be picked in the top three rounds of the NHL draft, though that's a pretty vague impression.
Fellow 2010 D commit Mac Bennett came in from some praise from USHR in September*:
5’11”. 170 lb. Hotchkiss defenseman and Michigan recruit Mac Bennett is a smooth skater who reads plays smartly, and excels in the transition game. He’s going to be an excellent college player. Smallish for a pro defenseman, but rates highly in every other are, so he will be drafted.
I keep saying this, but I like saying it so here goes again: if the 2010 hockey recruiting class hits campus intact it will be ridiculous. Knock on wood.
*(USHR is a subscription service but one that frees its archives after three months.)
Why? We're 3-9 and have no bowl game, that's why. But also because I just found the stats interesting.
Michigan State played Georgia in the Citrus Bowl, prompting dual Georgia/Michigan fan Michael at Braves & Birds to ponder World War II (most things cause him to ponder World War II):
Michigan State came into the Citrus Bowl (I refuse to use the new name) in a position not unlike the one that Japan in 1940-41. MSU was opposed by a slumbering giant, an opponent that was complacent and unprepared for war at the outset, but an opponent with far greater talent and capacity for a long-term fight.
Long story short: the giant woke up in the second half and dropped bombs. Only Georgia's disinterest in the game kept Michigan State's 2008 from being a mirror image of Notre Dame's 2006 minus the undeserved BCS bid, a superficially pretty record marred by epic beatings at the hands of the few top ten teams on the schedule.
Here's a table.
|Team||Total Offense||Total Defense||Margin||Total Offense||Total Defense||Margin|
|Team A||352.4 (67th)||357.9 (40th)||-5.5||339.5 (8th)||375.4 (8th)||-35.9|
|Team B||416.8 (42nd)||345.5 (32nd)||71.3||431.1 (1st)||394.1 (7th)||37|
Which team went 9-4 and which team went 7-6? It's obvious. If team B went 9-4 I wouldn't be posting about it. Michigan State's offense fell off a cliff and the defense basically stayed level and the end result was a significant improvement. As a bonus, the real numbers are actually worse than what you see above since they don't include the Citrus loss in which State was outgained by about 100 yards.
Anyone who's read this blog for more than a couple months knows the a-ha moment that's coming up: turnover margin! Except the 7-6 team was slightly better than the 9-4 team that critical, near-random category. No dice there. Neither can the explanation be found on special teams. Punting was about a yard better this year, and while the punt returns got a lot better the kick returns got a lot worse. There's nothing in the stats that offers an easy explanation as to why Michigan State seemingly got much worse but won more games.
The nearest thing to an explanation I can come up with is the distribution of turnovers. MSU was in -7 in turnover margin against Ohio State and Penn State, both epic losses; in all other games they were +9. Since a large chunk of that yardage gap also came in those aforementioned epic losses, State played a large number of games in which they were on the whole equal with their opponents and won the turnover battle and therefore the game. State won three games in which they were outgained, sometimes badly:
|Opponent||Yards For||Yards Allowed||Margin||TO Margin||Final Score|
State had no games that went the other way; they had their crappy days against teams they were highly unlikely to beat anyway. The Spartans were a 6-6 or 7-5 team—again—that had the breaks fall in the right way for them to leap up a couple spots in the weakest Big Ten in memory.
This is the long way of saying I'm not particularly afeared of Dantonio. While he seems like a better coach than the last two jokers at State (an honor also shared by Clay Aiken and jars of peanuts), Braves and Birds nails his ceiling:
Mark Dantonio is Jim Tressel without the talent base. Exhibit A: punting in the first quarter on 4th and 1 from the Georgia 39. Exhibit B: an offense built around running the same guy over and over between the tackles. (At least Tressel came out of the dark ages with Troy Smith.) Exhibit C: a kicker who attempted 25 field goals this year. Exhibit D: an on-field persona that makes Ben Stein's character in Ferris Bueller's Day Off look like Sam Kinison. With the way Dantonio's team approaches offense, I'm constantly reminded of the Japanese officer who said in 1944 that Japan didn't need radar because its soldiers could see perfectly well.
World War II analogies are appropriate because the last time Dantonio updated his thinking was during the Battle of Midway. At best he makes Michigan State into a Wisconsin or Iowa level program, and even that seems pretty doubtful.