Spartan Football: The Outlook Moving Forward…Wyoming

Author:
Publish date:

Coming off their 73-14 victory over Eastern Michigan, the Spartans welcome the Wyoming Cowboys to Spartan Stadium at high noon on the Big Ten Network.

Offense

It’s a good sign when your Offense is expected to roll through an over matched opponent and they do. It’s a better sign when the players further down the depth chart take the playing time they’ve earned seriously and commit to giving their best effort on each play regardless of the score. That’s a very simple concept to lay out, and borders on sounding like “Coach speak,” but how many College programs can do that at any given time in this sport? Not many, because it’s just not easy to do.

All aspects of the MSU Offense looked good last week, including a number of less experienced players that got valuable game reps under their belt. Mark Dantonio has said again and again that while practice time and internal competition is valuable, there’s no replacement for actual game action. “Our players understand that regardless of who they are, if they do the job they’re going to play. And if they don’t do the job, it doesn’t make them a bad person, but they’re not going to be playing,” the Spartans’ Head Coach told Spartan Nation earlier this fall about managing the depth and playing time on his roster.

Among the younger players that saw significant time included the Spartans back up and third Quarterbacks, Tyler O’Connor and Damion Terry. As we discussed earlier this fall, this stretch of two games and perhaps a couple others later in the year should provide an opportunity for younger Quarterbacks to take some reps. There’s a lot of season to play out and it’s still a long shot to think that Connor Cook would leave school early for the NFL, but stranger things have happened and the coaching staff at MSU has apparently come to realize the value of preparing for a Quarterback transition. Make no mistake, no one around Spartan Football wants to repeat the stumbles of 2012 and early 2013.

Presumably more important for the team’s 2014 success, Delton Williams got 10 carries against Eastern and looks ready for more this week. Williams is more of a power back (or a thumper) that this Offense can grow with. While Jeremy Langford can do just about anything, including running with more power than he appears to have at first sight, even he gets tired and dinged up. There were points in 2013 where it looked like MSU could’ve and maybe should’ve gone to Williams more. Maybe this stretch of games can help Williams play catch-up because when tougher yards are needed later in the season and Langford is running on less than a full tank, this Offense will benefit from having him ready to move the chains or get in for 6.

This game is again about developing depth for this Offense while staying healthy and in rhythm. This is one last look against a non-conference opponent and a final chance to refine the communication and precision of a unit that is quickly rising up the national ranks. There is a deep well of skill and athletic ability on this side of the ball.  If they can consistently play as a well organized unit, they will be ready to make a serious splash on the national stage during the bulk of conference play. It’s amazing when you look back a year ago and see how far this Offense has come. 

Defense

This group is probably more miffed that they didn’t complete a shutout than the program has let on since the final whistle blew last Saturday. It’s not that their driven by stats, but pushed by Pat Narduzzi, and by their team leaders to strive for perfection. They stay sane and don’t melt down, however, because they know that perfection is impossible.  They seem to thrive on its pursuit. Wyoming is their final chance to tighten the screws before a better than average Nebraska Offense comes to town, including the best Running Back in the league.

Though they are more loaded up front than perhaps any D-Line in the Dantonio era, there should be a little more snarl in this Defense than we’ve seen to date. When you look back at the Spartan Dawg units of the past couple years, you think of guys like Denicos Allen flying around the backfield eating people up. You think about the extreme pressure brought by the Spartan Defense, from all kinds of directions. As the 2014 Dawgs build their identity and players work into a regular rotation, we will learn how loud they can snarl.

MSU has 9 sacks through the first three games. That’s not an overly imposing number, but not too small number considering the preparation opponents have gone through to avoid such a drive killing fate. We should keep an eye out, starting next week, for new looks and schematic attempts to get more sacks and not just an effective pass rush as we saw against Eastern. MSU hit Easter Quarterbacks 15 times of 50 pass plays. The sack numbers are bound to rise if they continue to progress from there.

Communication has always been a major key for this Defense as we’ve discussed in the past. We remember the years where it wasn’t executed as well, and will forever have last year as a model example. We have seen it cause a couple of big plays so far this year, regardless of the lineup on the field or the opponent. Expect that issue to be addressed appropriately as the staff prepares for Nebraska and an entirely different level of athlete that they will face this week. While Wyoming is no doubt the immediate focus, and this Defense no doubt wants to hang a fat “0” on the final scoreboard, it’s more important that this unit operates from the same page as conference play begins because Nebraska can make big plays if you leave them daylight.

Special Teams

As we discussed last week, these two games in the schedule would present limited opportunities for the MSU kick return teams. Though it was interesting to see Riley Bullough get a look returning a couple kick offs, you would have to figure it was more an exercise of depth because you never know when a starter will go down with an injury. Macgarrett Kings was in position to field and return the whopping 10 punts that Eastern had to boot, but only got to return two of them. One of those, fortunately, he broke for 47-yards in reminding us how dangerous he can be in space with an innate ability to make people miss.

The kicking game looked tight as is most often the case around one of the best kicking programs in the sport. Mike Sadler looks to be healthier than he may have been a month ago, dropping three of his five punts inside the 20 last Saturday. As we discussed last week, MSU took an opportunity to get Michael Geiger a Field Goal try so he didn’t step into conference plays “cold.”  Hopefully he'll ge another look this week.  And MSU is once again has the luxury of utilizing a kick off specialist, Kevin Cronin, who can just focus on kicking off the tee.

Todd Boleski was once described as “a real weapon” by Mark Dantonio. It’s not clear that anyone in green and white has been able to kick it as far as often as Boleski did, but taking the art of the kick off for granted would be foolish. There is a specific skill set to a proper kick off that includes hang time, placement, and of course distance. MSU has been sloppy on kickoffs at key times in the last five years or so, and though the overall team is far more talented than most opponents they will face this year, there may come a time when the kick off plays a significant role in the final result.

Overall

Wyoming is a boring sounding state, and a boring sounding opponent. Those that have visited the state can tell you it’s got quite the natural beauty and scenery. Those that saw Wyoming at Oregon, or now realize that they played a couple weeks back with the Ducks winning 48-14, also realize this week presents a potential point of comparison for the ESPN fueled College Football Playoff drumbeat.

MSU can’t eliminate the loss at Oregon by beating Wyoming more handily than Oregon did, but they can mitigate the damage and potentially put some points back into their Playoff column. Think about it.  You have a common opponent, both played at home, only a few weeks apart. All kinds of numbers will be produced for a selection committee, and if MSU has a wider and more decisive margin of victory over Wyoming than Oregon did, it can only help their case not just against the Ducks, but maybe even against other teams involved in the conversation too. Until MSU loses again and is eliminated from the Playoff conversation, we should assess everything they do in that light and in that context. As much as some of us dislike that Playoff talk has overtaken the sport and we’re barely into the actual Fall, that’s the state of College Football right now.

If the Spartans handle Wyoming better than Oregon did, score more than 48 while holding Wyoming to less than 14 for those of us with short memories, it will add a filter to the Oregon loss. One could argue with so many things out of the Spartans’ control relative to how that committee goes about making a Playoff selection, this Saturday MSU has a little control over something that may play an active though minor role in their candidacy to be selected. Again, this is not a game to drop it into cruise control after a four possession lead. Those days must be left in the past, until something significant in the Playoff picture changes for good.

Putting the Playoff talk aside, this is another game MSU should win by more than five touchdowns though Wyoming looks much better than Eastern Michigan. If MSU can put together a 60-minute effort like they did last weekend, they will walk off the Spartan Stadium field with the kind of win that national power programs have as they complete non-conference play. “It’s very important that our entire team come focused,” Coach D told Spartan Nation earlier this week about the importance of maintaining a consistent effort for the entire 60-minutes. That’s where MSU football is right now, and that’s where they need to be at the end of Saturday’s play to stay right there in the national picture heading into Big Ten play.

P.A.T. (Perhaps Another Thought…)

  1. To a large extent since the turn of the century, Michigan Football has always lived past.  At its worst it’s perceived as the “has been,” overly cocky guy who never moved out of his small hometown but is always puffing his chest out and reminding everyone of how great he was in high school, decades ago. A bit of an “Uncle Rico,” if you remember the film Napoleon Dynamite. The problem from Brady Hoke and that entire program right now is that last week they had their collective pants pulled down in front of the entire country. The results weren’t pretty, and the current truth was exposed. In a year where a very favorable schedule set up for the Blue to get back to a double digit win total, if they lose to Minnesota this weekend at home watch out for a complete and utter meltdown.
  2. I’ve had a hunch Robert Bolden regretted how he handled his recruitment not too long after it all played out and he signed a commitment to Penn St. After Saturday’s experience on the Spartan Stadium turf, my guess is he regrets his long strange trip even more now.
  3. So Jameis Winston is suspended for the Clemson game by Florida St. University, then dresses out in his uniform to take the sidelines? Next he’s turned back around by his Head Coach and told to drop his gear, but still comes back out with his jersey on? Then ESPN shows him on TV 48 times during the broadcast! You thought Clemson “went Clemson” at the end of that game? What about ESPN? They went Clemson more than the gosh-darn-diggity Tigers themselves. Why not sit him on the GameDay desk next time, World Wide Leader?
  4. Last week was amazing for former Spartan Quarterbacks in the NFL. The past Sunday was nearly a perfect follow up as Nick Foles and Kirk Cousins dueled again, for all 60 minutes, throwing darts and Touchdowns with command. They even unintentionally inspired an old style Eagles-Redskins brawl after falling victim to respective cheap shots from their opponents, Foles getting the worst of them. In my youth, extra curriculars between the Eagles and Redskins were a regular occurrence. Two recent Spartan QBs dueling against each other at the top level of the sport was not. These are special times in Spartan Nation.