Michigan State vs. Montana State Scouting Report and Prediction

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A look at this week’s opponent…

The Spartans will welcome for the first time into the high cathedral of the Spartan Nation, Spartan Stadium, a 1AA (I still call it that no matter what the NCAA does to change the names so as to confuse people) opponent.

They are, of course, the Montana State Bobcats led by Coach Rob Ash who has a career 189-109-5 record. He is entering his third year with the Cats. Coach Ash’s teams are marked for great discipline. The lone exception to that would be last year in a 69-10 thrashing by Kansas State, a game that Coach Ash was quick to address when I spoke to him from his Bozeman office on Thursday, “I think we do everything here with great discipline, but that one game sure wasn’t that and you saw it get out of hand.”

Ash is a well-respected coach and currently serves on the AFCA (American Football Coaches Association) Board of Trustees. I sat down earlier this week for an exclusive interview with MSU Head Coach Mark Dantonio that will air on my TV program on Saturday and when finished Dantonio gave praise to his colleague, “They are very disciplined. They have played in a lot of big venues and they won’t be in awe. They will button it up and play hard.” 

I asked Ash about the fact that his team has already played some well-respected 1A teams and about the fact Dantonio mentioned their lack of awe. “I think that was a smart acknowledgement by Coach Dantonio. Our guys are young, but we have about 60 guys that have been in those environments. I think we all, coaches and players, are thrilled to be playing in the setting, but I don’t think they will be intimidated.”

In a lot of ways, Ash is similar to the man at the helm of the Spartan Nation. He is a no-nonsense tough disciplinarian who has a strong paternal relationship with his players. While speaking to Ash I had to ask him about his time in Ann Arbor. He received his Masters Degree from there. He was shocked that Spartan Nation had done our research and noticed that. “I want to congratulate you all. I had gone all week and not been asked by your media about that. I figured with the rivalry between you all I would have heard about that by now.”

It was while in Ann Arbor finishing his Masters (not in coaching) that Ash had an epiphany about what he wanted to do with his life. “I attended 14 games in my two years in Ann Arbor. I even came to East Lansing once for a concert, but I don’t remember what it was. I realized that I was going in a different direction with my life and that football was what I loved and coaching was my passion. I fixed that quick and here I am.”

 

 

When MSU has the ball…

The Spartans are not settled at QB. The race for a true starter will continue as it is until one of them distances himself. When the Spartans have the ball the Bobcats will run a traditional 4-3, but they do have a rover back that will remind some of JLS’s bandit. They also actually have a DE that is called their bandit who also will do more free lancing. Again, however, their “rover” will be more of the JLS bandit from the defensive backfield. 

They will try to create pressure on the Spartans’ young QBs, but meaning no disrespect, this game isn’t about them. The Spartans are far superior in talent and as long as they play disciplined, this will be a nice game for a lot of Spartan youth to be served.

When Nichol is in, watch for discipline type play and mistakes. Look for him to continue to wait to pass and not go to his feet too quickly. He is a gunslinger and can occasionally make throws off of his back foot without using proper technique. That worked in high school, but it won’t in the Big Ten. In fact, at Oklahoma they liked his freelancing talents, but his occasional tendency to use less than stellar technique is what cost him the job to Sam Bradford. Nichol has learned from those mistakes and look for him to showcase that against the Cats.

When Cousins is in the game, look for him to show maybe a little bit more of his free lancing skills. Cousins is very accurate and disciplined. The coaches would like to see him use speed and agility a little more.

Of course, the Spartans have to address the OL and look for starting LT Rocco Cironi to test his shoulder and elbow and play, but once he does look for them to get him out and give a lot of reps to youth.

The RBs are the least of the Spartans concerns. They have three good ones with Ray, Caper, and Baker, but each will get a chance to show what he can do. Look for the crowd to really have some ohh and ahh moments with this talented tandem.

I am anxious to see WRs who catch the ball. I have no concerns with the TEs, but this group has more to prove than anyone. They have been rode hard all of last season, the spring, and even this camp and it will be nice to see what they do when the lights come on.

 

When MSU is on defense…

The Spartans have such a far superior defense. The talent that will start the game and play well into the three deep is impressive. Look for the front four to get pressure on the Bobcats. If we walk out of the high cathedral on Saturday with all groups of MSU lineman having dominated the Bobcats and pressured him all day like a door-to-door vacuum salesman, then it was a good day.

I am anxious to see the LBs after the starting three play. I want to see that second and third string. Sicking Greg Jones on these 1AA cats could be considered cruel and unusual punishment and, if the game were in Bozeman, could get Narduzzi and Tressel arrested. Once the Spartans take command, look for Jones to be taken out, and he won’t be happy. He would be mad if he missed a Sunday school flag football game.

Coach Ash described his team’s defensive philosophy to me by saying, “We are sound and stay in our gaps and in the right place. We will attempt to keep the game in front of us and force the ball inside.” That is a great philosophy, and if he does, he may not like it when his players come off the field asking for someone else to force a TE or RB from the Spartan stables into the plan.

The Bobcats will use a lot of one back and move the TE to FB, but they are balanced. I am not so sure we will see a lot of that however. Once this gets out of hand, look for them to simply run the ball to attempt to shorten the game. Early on they could take the Boise State approach with some unpredictability.

 

Intangibles…

If JLS were the coach at MSU, I would be scared. His teams traditionally played down to the level of competition. They would have struggled against a well-coached and disciplined Montana State team. This isn’t Smith's team and that won’t happen. Dantonio exercised those demons and they aren't part of this team’s make up anymore.

Montana State is well coached and they do have excellent players. This Spartan team is ready for it. Coach Dantonio didn’t overlook these guys with eyes ahead. This team is one year away from truly being overhauled, but they are close and they won’t slip up.

One GIGANTIC intangible is that they have so many players two and three deep fighting for playing time, that even if Coach Dantonio called off his first team and made massive substitutions, he won’t stop his players from gaining meaningful game experience.

His second and third string will continue to dominate and attack, and the Bobcats will see unleashed on them three strings of hungry Spartans. Again, that isn’t disrespectful. Coach D won’t leave his starters in to humiliate them, but his second and third stringers very well may.

Montana State got paid $650,000 to play this game. Good for them. They will have earned each and every penny when they leave.

 

Prediction…

Again, Montana State is a good football team. They also, however, are over-manned at every position. With the Spartans two and three deeps as hungry as the ones this could get real ugly, like me as a runway thong model ugly. 

A lot of Spartans will play and the fans will see some youthful mistakes and some serious coaching and correcting of those mistakes. In the end, the Bobcats will play hard and represent well, but the Spartans will take care of them easily.

Make it MSU 55 and Montana State 13.