Wednesday, September 23, 2009

X's and O's

Preseason MSU:

Returning Defensive Starters: 8
Returning Offensive Starters: 7
2008 Big Ten Ranking: 3rd
Final 2008 BCS Ranking: #24
2009 Projected Big Ten Finish: 3rd

Preseason UM:

Returning Defensive Starters: 7
Returning Offensive Starters: 7
2008 Big Ten Ranking: 10th
Final 2008 BCS Ranking: N/A
2009 Projected Big Ten Finish: 7th

MSU 2009:

Wk 1 vs. Montana State:

Domination as it should be against a team of Montana State's caliber. Cousins and Nichol look like a beastly two-headed monster, and White looks like he could give the rest of the Big Ten nightmares. Defense does its job as expected by stifling Montana State in almost every aspect (2-14 on 3rd down, less than 100 yds in rushing and passing). Glaring stat: no turnovers, especially from a secondary that was supposed to be the star of MSU this year. No matter: a blowout is a blowout. 44-3

Wk 2 vs. Central Michigan:

A game against a MAC team with a good coach, a spread-style passing attack, and a future NFL quarterback looked like a trap game if you stared at the paper long enough. Dan LeFevour has been a dangerous man in the MAC the last few years, and he showed why. MSU's secondary and coverage team had a hard time finding a rhythm against CMU's receiving core, and as a result gave up over 300 yards in the air. Apart from the passing stats, the game looked quite even. MSU had the advantage in the field position game all day, but Nichol and Cousins came down to Earth for this game and paled in comparison to LeFevour. MSU's major bright spot was White, who again showed great ability to find a seam in CMU's defense...just not in the endzone. The biggest difference came on special teams, as a seemingly undisciplined MSU squad cost the Spartans the game due to deplorable coverage on an onside kick and an offside penalty call on the would-be field goal miss, which eventually became a game-winning split of the uprights. A lot of question marks were raised about MSU's secondary and coverage, and their two quarterbacks.

Wk. 3 @ Notre Dame:

To say that both programs needed this win was an understatement. Notre Dame was coming off a heartbreaking loss at the Big House which saw them dropped from the national rankings, and people calling for Weis' (annual) resignation/firing, whereas MSU was trying to right itself after a tough home loss to a MAC school. Still, history was on MSU’s side as they had one (I believe) the last 6 games at South Bend (correct me if I’m wrong). The game was a roller coaster ride in every sense. Jimmy Clausen was having a field day through the air as he had done all season, making the MSU secondary look more suspect, but MSU responded with a very nice outing from their young QB, Cousins, and White more than solidified his spot as a dangerous WR in the Big Ten. However, luck would not be on the Spartan’s side this game. Despite shoddy play calling from Weis for the second game in a row and a killer drive orchestrated by the Spartan offense, Lady Luck’s ugly cousin, Misfortune, showed up, and Cousins threw a pick to seal the win for the Gold Domers. This game showed a few things: 1) MSU’s passing game is more potent than most expected, 2) Notre Dame is still not as good as their original rankings indicated, 3) MSU is still looking to find some sort of replacement for Ringer (but with a passing game like they’ve shown, why hand the ball to the RB 40+ times a game?).

UM 2009:

Wk. 1 vs. Western Michigan:

This game was the good start to Michigan’s season that Blue-faithful were hoping for. It was 2006 when Michigan last opened with a home win, and the Wolverines beat a decent MAC team in the Broncos to end the opener winless streak. The pressure by UM’s D-Line forced Hiller into many mistakes, making this NFL-bound QB look more than human. The running game was in decent form, but the real story was the two young freshmen at the helm: Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson. Tate showed he could kill with his feet as well as with his arm, and Denard made a good argument for being the fastest player on the team with his TD scamper after a mishandled snap. An easy win over WMU puts many minds at ease in Ann Arbor.

Wk. 2 vs. Notre Dame:

This game was getting more publicity than Michigan had seen in over a year. A ranked Notre Dame was battling an unranked Michigan team for only the 3rd time in the history of the rivalry, and both programs were hoping to make this their statement game. Michigan and Notre Dame held close to eachother for the better part of the first half. Michigan drove the field numerous times with calculated determination, whereas Jimmy Clausen and his double-threat of Golden Tate and Michael Floyd at WR moved down the field almost at will sometimes against an apparently shaky UM secondary. The game well within reach, Michigan put the brakes on the Irish offensive attack for the 3rd quarter and stormed to an 11 point lead in the 4th quarter. However, the Irish took further advantage of the mismatch of Golden Tate vs. Boubacar Cissoko, and the Irish were soon three ahead of the Wolverines after a costly turnover by Forcier. But the Wolverines, piloted by the young and poised Forcier, drove 58 yards to score with 11 seconds remaining to go 4 points up on the Irish, a margin by which they would win the game. This was the statement game that the Wolverines were looking for, and it showed that the potent offense could carry a team if the defense faltered at times. The question remained, however: How FAR can the offense carry this team?

Wk. 3 vs. Eastern Michigan:

For the second week in a row, the Wolverines’ defense took care of business in the second half. A very below-average Eastern squad put up a good fight in the first half by orchestrating very slow, very long drives pieced together by pounding the ball out on the ground, effectively exposing the mental unpreparedness of Michigan’s LB’s. However, the defense woke up in the second half, blanking the Eagles on the scoreboard, allowing the offense to continue its field day with the Eastern defensive line. Carlos Brown had a career day in place of an injured Brandon Minor, but at the expense of the passing attack, which had a lackluster day. However, when you rack up 300+ rushing yards on a team, why pass the ball?

Upcoming UM @ MSU, Oct. 3rd:

UM Passing Offense vs. MSU Passing Defense:

The Wolverines have one of the most potent air attacks in the Big Ten, when they need it (see vs. EMU). Tate Forcier has broken away from the pack as the best passer on the squad, and his ability to move around, inside of, and out of the pocket while making throws can cause opposing defenses conniptions. Junior Hemingway and Greg Mathews are the anchors of a fairly deep receiver core and have shown good reads with Forcier. MSU’s coverage squad has had trouble containing the firepower of both Jimmy Clausen and Dan LaFevour this year, QBs likely to be headed to the NFL. Still, Notre Dame has more legitimate weapons at receiver than Michigan, and both LeFevour and Clausen are prototypical pocket passers. Forcier can make more plays on the run, but he could be contained by Greg Jones, the Spartans star LB this year. However, Forcier has broken quite a few ankles already this year, and the only thing that could hold him up is his youth and inexperience. EDGE: Toss-Up

UM Rushing Offense vs. MSU Rushing Defense:

The Wolverines thought Brandon Minor would be the star runner this year, but after the EMU game Carlos Brown finally showed why he was a former 5-star recruit. Not only did Brown impress, but Michael Shaw showed glimpses of brilliance. Oh, and let’s not forget the two-headed cheetah at QB of Denard Robinson and Tate Forcier, both of whom have busted open long scampers for TDs so far this season. MSU did a good job of limiting rushing yards against CMU, but Armando Allen Jr. and the Irish were still able to rack up a good chunk of yards. Greg Jones may be the best tackler in the Big Ten, but when you have to tackle 4 guys on almost every play, the job just got a whole lot tougher. Oh, make that 5 since Brandon Minor should be healthy for this game. EDGE: Michigan

MSU Passing Offense vs. UM Passing Defense:

MSU QB Cousins has seemed to solidify himself as the starter for the Spartans, despite a game-changing (and ending) mistake at the end of the Notre Dame game. Before his interception, Cousins was putting together a very nice drive to win the game against the Irish, and his use of Mark Dell and Blair White were very impressive. Michigan DE Brandon Graham has done well getting pressure on opposing QBs, but more times than not he is double-covered and ineffective. The Spartan receiving core isn’t terribly deep, but with Cousins connecting so well with Dell and White, does it really matter that much? Not really, especially when you look at the Wolverines coverage squad. The safeties haven’t had much action this year, which may seem like a good thing, but it’s only because the corners have been burned so bad that not even the safeties have the time to recognize the mistakes and cover effectively. Donovan Warren has the ability to shut down White or Blair (likely White), but Cissoko will have extreme trouble with whomever he is left with. Oh, and did I mention that the Wolverines’ depth at CB and S is about as deep as slam poetry by Paris Hilton? EDGE: Michigan State

MSU Rushing Offense vs. UM Rushing Defense:

With players like Obi Ezeh and Brandon Graham returning, one would think that Michigan could have ample success against the run. However, Armando Allen Jr. had a great day running the ball, as did Eastern Michigan (even if they had a 3.7 YPC). The Michigan LBs have shown way too many glimpses of mental immaturity at the position, and Obi Ezeh hasn’t shown the leadership play that’s expected of him yet. Still, Michigan has improved their tackling very well, and many of their schemes are designed to bounce opposing rushers outside where the LBs can take care of them. Running East-and-West is not the Spartans strength, and this should be an interesting match-up if Ezeh and the LB core can make the proper reads and not over-commit. EDGE: Toss-Up

Special Teams

Michigan has one of the best punters in the country in Zoltan Mesko (Avg. 42.2 yds/punt), and Greg Olesnavage (3/4 FG, Long of 44 yds) has done a good job of splitting the uprights. Michigan State has a proven kicker in Brett Swenson (5/6 FG, Long of 45 yds). However, the difference will be in the return game. Michigan has done well in dominating field position off of kick-offs and punts. Martavious Odoms has decent speed, but Darryl Stonum is the real threat. Stonum has already returned a kick-off for a TD (the first for UM since Breaston did it in 2005) and is a treat to break open a good return every time because of his speed. Also, it can be argued that Special Teams lost the game for MSU against the Chippewas (botched onside kick coverage and and offsides call to set up the game-winning FG). EDGE: Michigan


Dantonio has excited this rivalry almost single-handedly (with a little help from Mike Hart) with his comments about the Wolverines and the countdown clock in the locker room. Michigan State looks to make it two in a row against Michigan on Oct. 3rd at Spartan Stadium. The Wolverines are a program on the rebound from a terrible 3-9 season, and revenge is on the list for a number of teams, the Spartans included. However, Michigan is still a young team, and MSU makes the Michigan game their marquee every year, regardless of whom else is on the schedule, and regardless of their record. Also, this will be the first game for the Wolverines on the road, and Tate Forcier will be outside of the friendly confines of The Big House for the first time ever. EDGE: Michigan State

Despite all of this, there is still one game between the intrastate rivalry is renewed. MSU could easily be 1-3 and going into a tailspin, or 2-2 and with a lot of confidence. Michigan will likely be 4-0 (fingers crossed) and looking to prove that they're legit going into enemy territory. Until Indiana and Wisconsin have their time, we should hold off any predictions until then....

...then let the fit hit the shan! Go Blue!