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Preview: Michigan State Spartans

When I previewed Michigan State in the summer, I really wasn't that enamored with the Spartans. Watching them over the course of the year, they have had moderate success, which may seem to run counter to what I thought about the team. However, in their biggest games, Michigan State has failed to impress anyone. Essentially, they are who we thought they were.

Talking with State News writer Cash Kruth, my opinion of the Spartans still remains pretty much the same: they are a mediocre team, not a good one. Their strength of schedule speaks to this, and against real competition, they have struggled for the most part. Of course, a mediocre team should be able to beat a bad one, namely the Michigan Wolverines.

The Spartan offense is centered around one player: Javon Ringer. Ringer leads the nation in rushing yardage, with 1179 yards so far this year (Donald Brown of Connecticut has 1174 yards in one fewer game), and he runs for about 150 yards per Spartan contest. The offense is heavily reliant on Ringer, and in his two worst contests, the Spartans have lost for the only two times this season. It is important to note of Ringer, however, that he has 60 more carries than the next-closest player in Division 1-A. He has the lowest yards-per-carry average (4.48) of any player in the top 40 in rushing yardage, and most have him beat by a significant margin.

So why do the Spartans run Ringer so often, if they're not reaping great benefits every time? Looking at Mark Dell and BJ Cunningham, the wideouts, you'd think that MSU would pass it more. However, when you approach the situation under center, you realize that Brian Hoyer is often as much a liability for Michigan State as he is an asset. Despite having fairly good weapons, including Javon Ringer to take off some of the pressure, Brian Hoyer is 72nd in the country in passing efficiency. This is all despite rarely getting sacked.

So Michigan has a gameplan for beating Michigan State: stop Javon Ringer and force Brian Hoyer to beat you. He hasn't been able to single-handedly take down a team yet (his best opportunity, at Cal, saw him complete less than 42% of his passes) and is unlikely to suddenly start doing so. Michigan has already beaten a team of this mold, and Wisconsin had a significantly better offensive line, a wider variety of options at running back, and a more robust over-the-middle passing game, which thus far has been Michigan's biggest problem in coverage.

One other thing to note about the Spartan offense is the turnover rate. As much as Michigan has coughed the ball up this year, Michigan State has had troubles of their own, especially when Hoyer is forced to throw the ball (6-4 TD-int ratio). They had 3 fumbles lost against Ohio State, and two of them were returned for touchdowns.

MSU's defense has been at best okay, though strength of schedule again comes into play. Indiana scored their most points of the season against D-1A competition against MSU (29), Cal their third most (38, though the other two higher scores were against Washington State and Colorado State), but they gave up season-lows in point total to Notre Dame (7) and Florida Atlantic (0). The Atlantic game may have been something of an outlier, as their pass-happy attack was unlikely to find success in a monsoon regardless of who they were playing, but results speak for themselves.

The strength of Michigan's offense is the pass game, like the strength of MSU's defense is pass effeiciency. However, despite Michigan's obvious offensive struggles this year, the Wolverine pass game may be one of the best the Spartans have faced so far. If nothing else, there is the biggest array of receiving talent this side of OSU, and if Steven Threet is healthy, the passer shouldn't be too shabby. Of course, this all goes to hell if Nick Sheridan has to play any significant time. MSU's secondary is strongest at the safeties (if you consider any position where Kendell Davis Clark is a starter a "strength" - though I admit I haven't extensively seen him play at safety), so Michigan should have some ability to attack the perimeter on the sideline passes and wheel routes that have thus far been their most successful plays already.

In the run game, Michigan State has no been so successful on the defensive side of the ball. Cal and Ohio State went for over 200 on them, even Eastern Michigan went for 127, Shonn Greene of Iowa tore them up for 157, and only Notre Dame had a really bad day against them, which was partially due to the Spartans getting an early lead, followed immediately by Jimmy Clausen taking 4 bad sacks. The Irish put up only 16 yards rushing, though that came on merely 22 attempts (including sacks). Michigan might be the most anemic rushing attack that MSU has faced so far this season, but the Spartans have shown that, given the chance, a run game can succeed against them.

Michigan's gameplan will likely be to get the ball to the outside, and get playmakers in space. However, when the run game came to life a bit in the first quarter against Penn State, we saw that Brandon Minor, for all his fumbling troubles, may give Michigan an oportunity to actually move the ball without throwing. A healthy mix of plays, and passing to set up the run a bit, may speak to Michigan's advantage. As I said earlier this week, Michigan's offense this year might not be as good as West Virginia's ever was under Rich Rodriguez, but the man certainly knows how to gash a Dantonio defense either way. He might be able to scheme to keep that trend going.

The Michigan offense will reach a new season high in terms of total yardage.
Martavious Odoms will get his first touchdown as a Wolverine.
The Michigan defense or special teams will score on their own, or at least get the ball on Michigan State's side of the 50 for the offense.
There will be at least 2 "Sparty, No" moments.
Michigan wins, 28-20.

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“Preview: Michigan State Spartans”

  1. Anonymous Anonymous Says:

    "The Michigan offense will reach a new season high in terms of total yardage."
    Well, at least one team had significant yards
    "Michigan wins, 28-20."
    BAH HA HA HA HA!!!
    Your only bowl this year is the toilet bowl!!!