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Michigan State Preview

Before we get started, note to Michigan State administration: Lose the popup ads. I went to the MSU Athletics website and had no fewer than five popup ads fill my screen. Is the state university of Michigan that hard up for money that they have to turn their website into Ebay?

Team Overview

It's tough to tell exactly where Michigan State hit rock bottom this season. They always start off hot but hit a tipping point where it all goes down hill. The train wreck started this year when they blew a 17 point lead in the second half against Notre Dame. With all the talk about Michigan State planting their flag in South Bend the year before, a handful of Michigan State players stood at mid field at the end of the game guarding their precious Spartan S against a retaliation from the Irish players. But in typical classy Notre Dame fashion, the retaliation never came, and the Michigan State players were left to stand at mid field in disbelief that other people are not as classless as they are.

Picture stolen from borrowed from The MZone

Or maybe they hit rock bottom the following week when Illinois, a team playing 20 freshmen that had not won a Big Ten game in two years, came into East Lansing and beat the Spartans on homecoming weekend.

Or maybe they hit rock bottom on November 1, when the school administration announced that head coach John L. Smith will not be returning for the 2007 season. In any regard, this is a team and a program that is completely broken. They have one win in the Big Ten and needed a furious 35 point second half comeback to get it against Northwestern. If not for that win, Michigan State would be on an 8 game losing streak coming into Happy Valley this weekend.

Number One, as in one Big Ten win

Moderately Offensive Offensive Preview

Coming into the season the Spartan's figured to ride Drew Stanton all the way to a New Years Day bowl game. Some people even had him listed as a dark horse Heisman candidate. What the Spartan's didn't realize is they can't all stand around and watch Stanton take on 11 guys on defense all by himself. Somebody has to help contribute.

Stanton took a hit late in the fourth quarter of the Purdue game and complained of dizziness afterwards. In the first quarter against Minnesota he took a sack and had to leave the game. As of today his status for the game this weekend is still uncertain. Redshirt sophomore Brian Hoyer took over the rest of the game and played admirably completing 26 of 50 passes for 330 yards and 1 TD. But a fumble and two INT cost them the game. Stanton is listed as the starter on the MSU depth chart for this weekend, but Hoyer has been taking the snaps with the first team in practice this week. So really the Lions get the best of both worlds this weekend. Either they get a fuzzy headed Stanton, a rusty Stanton who hasn't practiced all week, or a redshirt sophomore in his first start on the road.

Everyone knows Stanton can throw, but what he really brought to MSU was his running ability. Before getting injured he was the second leading rusher on the team with 445 yards. Take away his sacks and he is the leading rusher on the team with 599 yards. Javon Ringer gets the bulk of the carries at running back and averages 6.0 ypc. He sat out a few games with an injury and Jehuu Caulcrick took his place. Caulcrick is a big kid at 6 ft tall and 260 lbs. He rushed for 111 yards against Notre Dame. He has done little since then, but he is still averaging 4.0 ypg and has 6 TD on the year.

Kerry Reed is the main threat at wide receiver. With 57 catches he's second in the Big Ten in receptions. He has decent size at 6'2" and 198 lbs, but he's not big enough to provide serious height matchup problems. Matt Trannon is a 6'6" receiver with 36 catches on the year. He may pose more of a problem for Penn State's undersized corners.

Their offensive line is not very good. They've been shuffling guys around all season. The rush offense is ranked #58 in the NCAA and they are ranked #82 in sacks allowed. Stanton gets hit a lot.

Defensive Preview

A Michigan State defender demonstrates their "speed bump" coverage technique

The defense is not as atrocious as Purdue or Temple, but they're pretty bad. They are ranked 62 against the run, 98 against the pass, 86 in total defense and 100 in scoring defense.

The defensive line is nothing special. Although they are an experienced group that seems to have good size, they don't get many tackles or sacks. Baldwin (LE) and Ryan (DT) are their only respectable pass rushers. The battle between Clifton Ryan and Robert Price will be a key one.

The linebackers are Thornhill, Herron, and Warrick. It seems Michigan State plays a defense similar to Akron where Warrick plays a LB/DB hybrid position.

When looking at the secondary I'm struck by two things. First of all, they have a lot of tackles. Safety Wiley Otis leads the team with 88. That's usually a sign of runningbacks breaking through the line and getting into the secondary. The second thing I notice is that as a group they only have 5 INT. Adams and Williams have two each. So this group does a lot of tackling and they don't get many interceptions. And like I said, the lack of pass rush combined with a tired secondary is why they have a ranking of 98 against the pass.

When Michigan State Has the Ball

I'm not sure if Hoyer can run the option as well as Stanton since I haven't seen him play. He had six carries for -29 yards against Minnesota (including sacks) so I'm going to say he's probably not much of a threat to run. If he plays I see no reason to believe he will not continue to turn the ball over like he did against Minnesota three times being this is his first start and he's on the road for the first time.

If Stanton plays it may be more of a game. But he's been pretty disappointing all year. He didn't play much last week and hasn't practiced this week so chances are he's going to be pretty rusty.

Ringer is undersized and Caulcrick is too slow. The Lions should have no problems shutting these two down.

Hoyer showed potential to light it up through the air like he did against Penn State. This is one area with Kerry and Trannon where Penn State could have difficulty. But if the front seven can stop the run, like I suspect they can, the safeties can just worry about the passing game and they should be fine. Watch for some trickeration on one or two plays. MSU has been known to throw a flea flicker or RB option pass once in a while. If Penn State starts to frustrate them they may try it to open things up.

They are going to struggle. Purdue and Minnesota, two of the Big Ten's weaker defensive teams, held the Spartans to 15 and 18 points respectively. Penn State's defense is a liiiittle bit better than theirs. Michigan and Ohio State held MSU to 13 and 7 points. I expect the Lions will have similar results.

When Penn State Has the Ball

You know the routine by now. Until they show me otherwise I'm not going to expect anything different. They will run the ball between the tackles with Hunt and have success. That should open up some passing lanes, but the vanilla Penn State offense will stick with the medium range out patterns and be satisfied to hit Quarless in the soft spots of the zone down the middle. We'll still see wide receiver screens and futile sweeps to Hunt that kill drives for no apparent reason. But Michigan State is weak enough on defense they should be able to compensate.

We Can Laugh at This Part on Monday

Here are BSD's predictions

If Hoyer plays, he throws at least two picks (one to Scirrotto)
Michigan State will be held to less than 75 yards rushing
Anthony Morelli goes 12-of-21 for 150 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT
Tony Hunt has 26 carries for 145 yards and 2 TD

Final Score

Michigan State 10
Penn State 27