There is no shortage of legitimate value in sports fandom. There are probably ways in which these values could be plucked and rescued from the oceans of wasted time and otherwise productive energy upon which they bob. Oh how my life would improve! But when you’re a hopeless junkie with no will power it doesn’t matter anyway, so lets get on with it.
I thank the 2008 edition of M football since they have funneled 50% of this sort of sloth back into my general fund. The offense will have a ton of crappy plays, and few good ones, inexplicably lashed together into a couple long drives resulting in between 10 - 20 points. The ball will go onto the ground and affect the outcome based on which side picks it up more often than not.
To what degree will the defense keep M in the ball game and make those points count?
MSU wants to run first with a great back and solid run blocking offensive line. UM was gashed, horribly horribly gashed, by PSU. They also got gashed up pretty good by Ill. Toledo only rushed for 70, but they made little effort at est any type of running attack, frequently going shotgun no-back and rushing 22 times in 72 plays. Is there any reason Moo-U won’t line up and try to run down hill all day long?
Two, maybe three reasons. You can’t discount the threat of Ill’s and PSU’s running Qbs in their success running the football. Dufrene and esp Royster had success on what I would consider "strait up" running plays, or those which incorporated little to no option threat. But the mere distraction of having Juice or Clark in the backfield IMO disrupted UM’s entire run defense to the point where they were a factor on every single run play, save those out of a non-QB sneak I-formation.
Wiskey was last team to run downhill at UM*, to the tune of 158 yards. A good solid total but merely o.k. for them. If Lloyd’s goal out of the pro set offense was to get 200 on the ground and 200 in the air, you know Wisconsin is in trouble in any game where they notch 158.
But I digest. Point is, will MSU’s coaches discount M’s shit job against the Ill and PSU running attacks, give points to their solid performance against a traditional running attack in Wiskey, and consider dialing up more passes? Before answering my own hypothetical question which I've now posed twice, lets factor in the Toledo game and M’s performance against the pass.
M got lucky on various deep passes from Utah and Miami. The well ran dry [pun(?) intended? I’ve been contemplating the meaning of the word. Let’s go with it] pun intended, prior to the ND monsoon where the max-protect-throw-deep blue print was hatched to neutralize M’s greatest defensive strength (pass rush) and exploit its greatest weakness (executing deep coverage responsibility). Then Toledo and a man named Moore, a man who knows how to celebrate, road into town and took it the other way. Empty backfields and a bevy of receivers to flood M zones, or take extended handoffs in the face of 8-10 yard cushions. To summarize, M’s pass D has shown itself to be vulnerable deep and short.
MSUs rush offense was just stoned by OSU. MSU faced a lot of athletes on defense capable of winning one-on-one physical battles, and things didn’t turn out well. I’m not putting Ms defensive personal on par with OSUs, but based on the evidence you’d have to rank the D’s weakness thusly: 1) defending spread-option rushing attacks 2) vulnerable to deep balls or committing PI on same 3) Lbs who don’t defend their short zones and Cbs who leave big cushions to the outside 4) defending pro style rushing attacks. Is MSU fine with tempting fate by going strength on strength, or will we see a game plan which consciously looks to exploit these holes in the pass D at the expense of Ringer’s carries? [thrid time, its like I'm trying to talk myself into talking them into it]
Taking this all into account my guess for MSU’s offensive game plan is that they will run a lot, they will not stop even if stopped, and they won’t be afraid to run heavily on first and second down regardless of initial success. Reasons:
a) Wiskey is the biggest disappointment in college football. It will be super easy for MSU’s coaches to discount M’s performance against them, esp with fresh visions of Royster going hog wild last weekend.
b) MSUs personal isn’t conducive to exploiting the pass D they way Toledo did. It should go without saying that their QB and targets are on par with those of Toledo, but Hoyer is only completing 49.5% of his passes. Yet, somehow, his QB rating is 117.1 with a 6-4 td to int ratio. Without having watched a ton of sparty this year, those numbers and his 7.3 yards/attempt tell me he’s getting the ball down field well and I would guess play action has a lot to do with it. M’s backers are prob going to suck up on every snap, play action or no, and I see no reason why UM would pick this game to start playing aggressive man coverage to the outside to take away long handoffs and hitches. MSU would be wise to incorp a lot of easy pitch-and-catch outside and dump-offs behind the backers, but I don’t see that happening since its not a "stength".
c) MSU had 4 crucial TO against osu. Even though 3 were fumbles, putting in the air always carries more risk and there is no good reason for sparty to incorporate more risk into their plan.
d) Dantonio, god bless him, is pure football caveman. The paths to offensive success are execution, winning physical battles, and limiting big mistakes. He warms to the opportunity for emotion and bravado to overtake clear thinking, and something would have to go terribly wrong to shake him out of the chance to win this one in any fashion other than IMPOSING THEIR WILL.
What will it all mean? I personally think Sparty would have nothing to loose and a lot to gain by balancing their run-pass and taking advantage of a lot of wide open short stuff. So far they have 334 rush v. 214 pass, with a grain of salt taking the form of some statistic skewing blow outs and play from ahead wins. But take a look at the Iowa game. There, they ran 34 times for 91 yards (with no sacks) and passed 24 times for 184, eeeking out a 16-13 W at home. Although that one was of the come from ahead variety, they averaged over 14 yds a completion and 7/attempt, vs. 2.7 per rushing. At home you would think sparty may open up the pass a bit where they were having success with it and look for breathing room, but no sir.
This game will be a cock-off won or lost purely by UM’s rush defense against the pro set v. MSU’s ability to get consistent rush yardage on 1st down and mix in some big runs or long passes over the top. Assuming the M offense doesn’t turn it over 10 fucking times. M’s D has all the motivation they could ever want and an opponent that is going to do exactly what they want. The one thing Ms D has shown consistently this year is that no amount of motivation helps them to play any better.
This year theirs is bigger than ours, and the humiliations continue.
*I am banning myself from the phrase "line it up" and run down hill. After some consideration, running down hill "all day long" was spared.