Depth and Versatility Make MSU a Dangerous Football Team

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The Spartans are off and running and have a big 2010 on their mind.  Photo courtesy of Starr Portice.

The Spartans are off and running and have a big 2010 on their mind. Photo courtesy of Starr Portice.

There are a number of factors that determine whether or not a football
program is starting to turn the corner. One of the biggest things
that you never really hear analysts talk about is the collection of
talent after the starting twenty-four positions. Football is a
physical game. It is a game that requires talent, skill, speed and
technique. A true measure of a football team is what lies in the
second and third string. How many starters are sophomores and
freshman? Quality upperclassmen win games.

For years we have seen the Buckeyes and Wolverines (under Lloyd)
stockpile talent. As quickly as a star would go down for them, they
would trot the next one onto the field. It was truly frustrating.
The teams that can weather the injuries throughout the Big Ten season
are the ones that compete for championships. You have to have capable
talent everywhere if you want to compete for championships. Under
previous regimes, we’d get excited about the latest JC kid that has
two years to play. He’d be filling a gaping hole at a key position
only to see that the depth was nowhere near where it needed to be in
order to compete for twelve games. Those days are over.

For the first time since I have followed Michigan State football, the
Spartans finally have depth. They don’t have explosive talent at
every position in the two-deep, but it is better than I ever remember.
There are between eight and ten offensive lineman that can protect
and get push at the point of attack. There are three QB’s that could
start tomorrow. There are two good running backs with experience and
two more freshmen that add quality depth. There are enough receivers
and tight ends to run virtually any offense our heart desires on a
given down.

The defensive line has a solid group of players that are two-deep at
every position. Linebacker is loaded. Our third group of linebackers
is probably better than any starting group JLS put on the field. The
defensive backfield has some talent. The depth is nowhere near the
rest of the team. Michigan State will have to get some quality snaps
out of young players. It is just the reality of our situation. If
our defensive backfield stays healthy, this team will overachieve. If
we get hit with a rash of injuries in the defensive backfield, we will
be blitzing an awful lot. I think that this defensive unit has the
ability to be very special. If they have success early, their
confidence could put them over the top this season. They will need to
create turnovers.

Games are won with depth and versatility. You can’t strictly be a
“power-I” football team and you can’t just be a spread offense. To
borrow a Dantonio phrase, “everyone has players on scholarship.”

In the Big Ten Conference, there is some very good coaching as well. In
order to take a team’s strengths away, you have to be able to change
the formations and personnel to exploit a team’s weakness. Sometimes
you’ll need six defensive backs. Sometimes you need four speedy
‘backers. Other times you may need two big ones and a third that
plays like a safety. The point is that we have the ability to put our
players in a position to win because of the versatility of the talent
we have.

It is no secret that MSU wants to pound the ball. I believe we have
the lineman, tight ends and running backs to bury a lot of teams this
year. You have to be able to mix things up in order to set a defense
up for a big play. We could very well lead the conference in
offensive production.

Michigan State has five quality receivers, four tight ends, multiple

fullbacks, explosive tailbacks and three guys on
the field at any time that can throw a tight spiral downfield
(Cousins, Nichol and Martin).   There are going to be games where we
run the ball effectively out of a three-receiver set. There will be
times when there won’t be anyone but a QB in the backfield with five
receivers. There will be times when MSU uses three or maybe even four
tight ends on the field at the same time. Again, my point is simple;
we have the depth and talent to make these types of adjustments to
create mismatches.

There is an old football adage. You run a play until your opponent
stops it. How many times did MSU get hammered for a big play on the
dreaded wheel route? Wisconsin destroyed us last year running the
tight end vertically up the seam because we didn’t show them we could
stop it.   A lot of our problems defensively revolved around lack of
depth and quality players at some key positions. No, it wasn’t all on
the defensive backfield. There were other deficiencies as well. Many
of those have been addressed. Three solid recruiting classes have
done a lot to set the table for an eight-win plus season.

I like this Spartan roster. I am not that concerned about our
defensive backfield. I think that we will be improved everywhere on
the field with the exception of kicking field goals. If Muma, Conroy
or Sadler are able to able to hammer the ball through the uprights
consistently, MSU has a special season. I have our Spartans going 9-3
with a New Year’s Day bowl.