Time to summarize what I think I've learned from watching (almost) all of MSU's games this year. I'm not gonna do a season recap, instead I'm going to lay out where I think we can get some advantages or what we should prepare for.
Sorry that this is thrown together at the last moment. I'll probably do something a bit more in-depth for the game wrap. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I fantasize that the coaches or players actually read my spewings and can get something useful out of it.
But it's probably just helping the Mgocitizens waste a few minutes of work or ignore their families during the holiday ^^. Either way, I hope people get some use out of my posts.
WHEN MSU HAS THE BALL
Starter: Relf (#14 but will wear #36 for the bowl game).
He's a big guy, tall, 240ish. Doesn't have breakaway speed but can chew up yardage quickly. He is most dangerous on QB traps and draws.
He has average arm strength. He's fairly accurate within 30 yards, but loses accuracy the further he throws. He can put good touch on intermediate slants and posts over the middle. But he has lower percentage on deep outs and corner routes. He can throw the flare. He can make a shovel pass, and he can option pitch going in either direction. He can throw the screen. He is not as good of a passer when rolling to his left.
As a runner, he has good vision and decent cuts and moves. Tends to fall forward on contact and can run over smaller defenders. It's imperative that we get to him before he can build up momentum.
He will probably carry the ball close to 20 times and have between 10 and 20 passing attempts. (unless we get a big lead early)
He has big hands, but is sometimes careless in his ballhandling. All defenders should be trying to punch the ball out on east-west plays.
When he gets pressured, he sometimes throws the ball up for grabs. If he throws off his backfoot, the ball will hang in the air. He rarely throws the ball out of bounds. It's either going to an intended receiver or he'll pull it down to run with it.
He's not great at reading coverages, so he'll hold the ball longer than he should. The coaches call safe passes for him. If we can get them to third and long, be prepared for screens and draws.
An athletic pocket passer. But a redshirt freshmen. He got a lot of playing time early in the year, but practically disappeared in the second half of the season as Relf established himself as 'da man'. He's a gunslinger with a little too much confidence in his arm and not enough game experience. He can run the zone read, but is not nearly as a big of a threat to run as relf.
Starter: #28 Ballard. Juco transfer. Bigger guy with a good burst.
This is your classic pounder, ala wisconsin or MSU (YTMSU). He has good speed, but not great change of direction. His instincts are to cut back to the inside instead of bouncing it to the outside, unless he's within 5 yards of the goal-line.
He will get the ball between 10-20 times.
He isn't great at maintaining proper pitch relationship on the option, so MSU has gone him having him be the mesh guy and having someone else take the pitch, or simply letting Relf keep it.
Has not shown himself to be a threat in the passing game.
He is most dangerous on inside iso's, dives, and counters.
Backup: #27 Perkins. speed guy.
Freshman (maybe redshirt, don't remember). But he came on strong as the season wore on. Had a break-out game against Ole miss in the last game of the season. Expect him to be a large part of the offense for the bowl.
With Bumphis out, he becomes their fastest skill player.
He's extrememly dangerous on edge running plays. Especially the sweep. Expect him to cary the ball 5-10 times. But they'll probably have another 5-10 plays designed to go to him on either screens, wheel routes, or some other trickery.
With the extra practices, expect him to line up in the slot and then motion around, possibly to the backfield or to get the ball on a jet sweep.
3rd string: #2. Meh. will carry the ball 2-4 times.
FB: #35. Not the biggest player, but he has the heart of fullback. He really sells out on blocks and is an excellent lead blocker. Soft enough hands to catch the ball in the flat, but not much of a threat with the ball in his hands. Also not much of a running threat, even in short yardage. (Relf and Ballard are more likely to get the ball in short yardage.)
It's hard to talk about this group due to the lack of passing, but here's some notes:
Starter: #1 Bumphis, Injured. WOOOHOOO!
When he was in the game, the OC designed many plays specifically to get the ball to him. He would line up in the slot but then move all over the place. Relf had a tendecy to lock in on him. Most of their creativity on offense revolved around his skills.
Now that he is out of the lineup, expect #27 Perkins to take on most of his roles. If Perkins is in the backfield, then #86 becomes the next fastest guy. But #86 lacks experience.
Backups: #9 and #8 were both tall recievers with decent speed and hands. One of them is injured, whichever one is named Berry. So #3 becomes the next in the lineup. He showed a little bit of skill on the bubble screen
#19 caught a few balls but was basically meh.
TE: One of the TE's remains injured, the other has decent size and soft hands. But he wasn't targeted much this year.
A veteran group with a lot of starts. LT #79 is a senior with a lot of NFL hype. The center is also a senior. These guys do a lot of pulling in all directions, and have enough agility to get in front of plays. Most of them have severe guts, so passblocking in the 4th quarter might be an issue when fatigue starts to set in.
The only weak spot is #62. He is a good run blocker, but has made several mistakes in pass protection. I suggest running a lot of two man stunts or blitzes on his side making him choose who to block and who to let go.
There seems to be a significant talent/experience dropoff when the backups come in. In the one game where they had to shuffle linemen around because of injuries, Ballard was held in check and things were not pretty.
If any backups come in, such as #61, we should attack them like crazy until they run back home to momma with tears in their eyes.
This is a run first team. They don't throw very often on first down. If they do, it'll be short stuff like bubble screens or quick slants or hooks. Their most effective play action is quicker because the long developing playaction is practically usesless with Relf's poor deep ball accuracy. If they run playaction on early downs, the targets will be 15-30 yards downfield against the zone.
They try to spread out the defense so that they can run right up the middle. Running plays will usually involve a lead blocker or an option mesh handoff.
The offense relies heavily on misdirection. They use a lot of motion and counter plays. They like to capitalize on the defense lining up wrong, or not adjustion to the motion. Over the course of the year they've used tons of formations, but in spurts. About 80% of it will be shotgun with a RB or two. But they've run some I-form, some wildcat, and even some single wing in a couple of games.
Their running plays are generally slow developing with pulling linemen or lead blockers from the backfield. The running backs, especially Ballard, have shown great patience in picking the hole and then accelerating through it.
They want to control the clock. The strength of the team lies with their veteran offensive line. They may not be the biggest and strongest, but they don't make many mistakes. Because they run the ball so much, they don't show as many plays per game.
It has been interesting to see that they will use certain formations or series of plays for one game, and then you won't see it again at all for many weeks, if ever. But if they do show a play or have a series of plays installed for the week, expect them to go back to it if it works the first time. They may use that series 3-5 more times the rest of the game if you don't adjust to it.
With the extra practice time, expect to see at least two brand new formations that they haven't shown all year up until now.
The OC will not hesitate to design plays just to get the ball in the hands of Perkins or some other speed guy in space.
Their main threats are on inside runs.
They are not afraid to go for it from about their 40 and beyond. They will likely have 1 or 2 trick plays ready.
BLITZ! Blitz! BUH-LI-TZZZZZ!!! Is what I'd be saying if we had better/more experienced DB's. But we gotta go with the personnel that we have. I'd also prefer if we used more 4 down linemen this week, but the previous caveat applies.
Even so, this is not a game for us to be sitting back in an 8 man zone all day long. With their deficiencies in the passing game, we should have 8 in the box on early downs.
Ideally, I would suggest that we blitz heavily on early downs. About a 30-60% mix of outside blitzes and inside blitzes. If we can get penalties against them or TFL's, we can kill their drives.
The key to stopping their offense is to disrupt their backfield. Well timed outside blitzes will destroy their sweeps and bubble screens. Inside blitzes that outman their blockers will make Ballard and Relf stop their feet. We need to slow them down before they build up momentum, otherwise they'll just keep leaning forward for first downs. If they can run downhill against us like the sParties did, it'll be a long afternoon.
Once we get them into passing downs, blitz and stunt and twist up the middle like there's no tomorrow (which there might not be for certain defensive coaches). Relf is much more dangerous when he pulls down the ball to run, so we need to keep him inside. The outside rushers should back off to maintain contain or string out the corner and try to bat down balls.
The best way to get Relf to throw bad interceptions is to put pressure right up in his face, not from the side. Don't let him step into throws with good body mechanics. His arm isn't strong enough to just wing it without his legs. (Unlike Denard who can whip a fastball with a flick of his wrist).
I know all about our DB's. But this is a favorable matchup for us. Our DB's should play inside leverage most of the game and deny a straight path for the ball. Make Relf throw over people and at odd angles. We'll take the percentages.
WHEN WE HAVE THE BALL
Against our running spread, expect them to be in a 4-2-5 of some variety for most of the game. They use a lot of substitutions among the front seven and so sometimes it looks like a 4-3 or even a 3-3-5, but this defense revolves around the MLB #50 White, outside pressure, and a bend but don't break philosophy in the redzone.
In our territory, they will blitz and use high risk, highly variable defenses with a very deep safety. Once we get closer to the redzone, they will mix it up more with 8 man drops.
In the 2 minute drill, with a lead, they will do the opposite. They will play a soft zone to eat up the clock and then start to bring pressure as we get closer to the redzone. With our kicking situtation, this will be a problem.
These guys are space eaters and gap controllers. Their main job is to keep people off of the middle linebackers. And since I haven't really talked about them much in the game notes and the LB's have been darn good, that must mean they've been doing their job well.
The only standout is #90 Mcphee. He'll need to be doubled or rolled away from on passing downs.
#50 White, sideline to sideline player with a great motor. Smart. Not huge. We must get a body on him if we expect to run the ball. He's good with his arms and shedding blocks. He doesn't seem to get tired, and will be a thorn in our side ALL DAY. He doesn't have elite speed, (he's no Junior Seau from back in the day) comparing him to the only other MLB i've scouted in depth this year, he's a lot smarter and more experienced, but quite a bit slower than Manti T'eo (but who isn't?) so Denard should be able to get to the corner against him. And the bubble screens will be available, although they like to roll up coverage to take that away sometimes.
#34 Wright, taller, more athletic than #50. He's a hybrid OLB/DE playing weakside middle linebacker, (if you can figure that out). He loves to jump up to bat the ball down. Would have about 6 interceptions this year if he didn't have hands of stone. We need to block him with a shoulder pad in his gut to keep his arms down. He's also very good at shedding blocks. (reminds me a little bit of shawn crable, sorta)
#48 OLB. Had a quiet season. He spent most of his time blitzing and getting blocked. But he seems to fit his role in the defense well. He'll be the first LB off the field for extra DBs
#10 OLB/SS hybrid. Didn't play much in the last couple of games. But he spent a lot of time covering slot receivers or as a flexed out OLB.
Cornerbacks #25 and #13 will play most of the game. Of the two, #25 is the more aggressive and therefore more susceptible to double moves or playaction. #15 has been moving back and forth between offense and defense, so we might be able to take advantage of him. Depending on the coverage, #13 will give a big cushion, opening up the the comeback routes.
Safeties #4 and #5 are hard hitters. #4 has been slightly better in run support. #5 can be too agressive at times and is not as good in coverage.
#5 has been battling for his position with #7, a younger player. But #7 has made many mistakes in the few opportunities he's had, so expect to see more of #5.
Oh, who am I kidding? Despite what we saw against TuoOSU, this offense doesn't need any recommendations from anyone. If Denard can bust an 80 yarder against ND, he can do it against these guys, just like the kid from Alcorn St. did.
If we can pass with impunity against illinois, our WR should be able to get open and get yards tomorrow.
I suspect that our running backs won't be able to shake loose much, but how will that be different from what we've seen from the 2nd half of this year?
If we take care of the ball, no turnovers and no drops, we'll be fine.
The only thing they seemed especially vulnerable to were tunnel screens (where the outside receiver is heading back towards the linemen) and plays were a really fast guy managed to get outside and run away from them.
If the safeties start cheating towards the sidelines, there'll be plenty of room against the zone in the middle of the field, as Mallet and Arkansas showed.
This game will rest on Denard. The pressure will be coming, and he can't throw bad picks to guys he doesn't expect to be dropping off into coverage. Hot reads have to be deeper, otherwise the LB's or DE's will be right in the passing lanes.
So once again, how will that be different from anything we've seen from the 2nd half of the season?
On paper, this looks like a game that could go either way. Either MSU will dominate us on the LOS and grind the clock to a 28-14 win that isn't really that close, or we'll be able to get some stops and make a shootout of it.
This game rests firmly in the hands of Denard on offense (well, duh) and Jonas Mouton on defense. If Denard can pop some big plays and connect with his receivers, we should be able to trade scores with them. If Mouton can shadow Relf and not get fooled by ball fakes, we have a shot to outscore them.
Some years ago there was a picture of Tressel with some writing on the board in the background. It appeared to be his gameplan against us. I can't find it right now, but it basically had 4 bullet points that said something like:
Stop #20 (mike hart)
Pressure #7 (henne)
Well, maybe those last two were different, but it didn't matter. Based on the results, you'd have to say that Tressel has been a master when it comes to The Game.
If RR were going to make one of those for the gator bowl, it should read something like this:
Stop Relf with run blitzes
Pressure Relf up the middle on passing downs
Don't let Relf pull the ball down on a scramble and head up the middle
Yes, this means designed draws too! Especially on the designed draws!!
For god's sake, if you have to choose between going after Relf or someone else, go after Relf!!!!
On a personal note, I really want us to win this game. No, I mean I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY, want us to win this game.
First of all, I'm a fan and alum, so OF COURSE I want us to win every game. But in addition to that, a win would make Dave Brandon's job so much easier.
I don't want to get into a whole CC debate, but in every possible universe, winning this game is better for everyone. At 8-5, there is zero chance that RR will be fired and replaced with anyone other than Harbaugh.
At 8-5, if he keeps RR, he's keeping a guy that's improved the team by a significant amount every year and we're looking at a 10 win season in 2011.
At 8-5, if he brings in Harbaugh, he's doing it because we want him as an upgrade over a guy with a decent record. It's like buying a new car. If you're buying a car because your old one broke down, you're kind of forced into it. But if you're buying a new car because it's just that much more awesome than the one you've already got that is still working fine, well that gives a different kind of impression.
At 7-6 we're going to have to suffer the idiotic posts of the Brady Hoke following and their ilk.
I hate making predictions, especially when the two teams are close. So instead I'll just put what I hope happens.
28-26 Michigan. Denard breaks a 40+ yard run and we get long TD's from our WR's. MSU kicks 4 field goals but misses a ridiculously long 5th attempt as time expires.