Kevin Thomas weighs in with another guest author take. This time saying that Saturday's game at Iowa is a program game!

GuestAuthor

YEAH, IOWA IS A PROGRAM GAME

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Here we go, time to buckle in and finish the wild ride that is Spartan football. Some will debate the importance of this game, and Coach Dantonio himself quickly deflected any talk that this game is any bigger than any other, but don’t be fooled, this game is  HUGE and the Spartans have a great shot to win if we forget for a moment they usually struggle on the road against Iowa.

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The Hawkeye’s are struggling throwing the ball and getting any consistent productivity on offense, and Narduzzi and the boys should be able to hold their own on that side of the ball.

Well, that is, if they tackle better than they have been. On offense, the Spartans will be facing former Spartan Coach Norm Parker who will be bringing a reasonable rendition of the 4-3 stunt defense that George Perles made famous with the Steelers and brought him acclaim at Michigan State, well, that is until Lou Holtz spent the summer studying it while at Notre Dame and figured out you could expose the defense by running traps up the middle.

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In other words, this defense will be only a hair easier to solve than the Ohio State defense, but then again, the Iowa offense probably won’t be able to test the Spartans at the skill positions like the Buckeyes did.

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However, no matter how the x’s and o’s all shake out, the Spartans are in desperate need of a victory after dropping three of their last four games. Also, MSU needs to get six victories to be bowl eligible. But the Spartans don’t just need a victory here, they need to finish strong this season, and there is no reason they can’t finish 9-3 this year if they bring it like they say they are going to bring it. Talk is cheap and everyone around here wants to see the action to go with it. The Spartans are talking the talk, but can they walk the walk? Time will tell, and they can’t do it by looking ahead, only by beating the next opponent on the schedule and taking these games, as cheesy as it may sound-‘one game at a time’. Dantonio

said last week that Jim Tressel does a great job of not letting his players look beyond the game that is right in front of them. Well, Dantonio will have to perform that same magic act

and bring the players focus this week. This is when you hope his tutelage under Tressel pays off.

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You see, it’s all about perception, and that perception is that MSU should beat a struggling Iowa team after coming within seven points of the number one team in the country on the road last week. The Spartans are all aware of the “same old Spartans” talk early in the year and they are on a mission to stomp on any naysayer’s this time around. Something that can only be accomplished by winning these games.

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It’s time to put it together. The Spartans have had some good wins, they had a hard luck loss to Wisconsin on the road, a tougher disappearing act at home to Northwestern, and a loss to a stingy Ohio State team. Mental toughness needs to remerge or else those labels of the past will reappear and conger up the ghost of John L. Smith and company.

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Another reason this is the biggest game of the year is the impact it will have on Bowl destination and RECRUITING, as they feed on each other. A strong 9-3 finish in his first year will make recruiting for Dantonio that much easier. A 6-6 finish can leave doubt in the fans eyes, and yes, even in the minds of the recruits in where this program is actually headed.

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It took Darryl Rogers three years to win a Big Ten title and go to ‘what would have been’

the Rose Bowl had it not been for probation. Nick Saban reached the 9-2 mark his fifth and final season before moving on. George Perles went to the Rose Bowl his fourth year. So if Dantonio can finish like many people feel he can, then that is a huge boon to the confidence to all connected to the program-the fans, the alums, the players, the coaches, and most importantly- the recruits, who are the life blood and future of any program.

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Beating a struggling Iowa team would also give this team some confidence heading into the

traditional rival game with Michigan and take the pressure off of competing for a bowl berth. Dantonio told the players after the Ohio State game that while he appreciated the effort and comeback, that their  would no moral victories at MSU. Let’s home the players are listening and buying into that kind of talk, especially when it’s true.

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What is bothersome is there were complaints about tackling after the Northwestern  game and Dantonio vowed to fix it---which he did—for one week. The occasional receiver also tends to stretch the field vertically against the Spartans as well. Also, if you blitz and put pressure on the QB, shouldn’t their be a defensive back in the same area code? Hopefully, this week there will be. At least they brought some pressure in the second half.

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Offensively, the Spartans tried to play to their strength, which is running the ball, and often a wise move, and that is to say-“Concentrate on what you do best, and make the opponent adjust.” Unfortunately, when your opponent is Ohio State, you cannot run on first down, run on second down, and pass on third. If that is the case, why not just bring back Lorenzo White now? With great defense, you have to take what the opponent gives you. You have to sometimes use the pass, especially on FIRST DOWN, to set up the run. Also, there is no law against throwing a post pattern and stretching the defense vertically to keep the defense from jumping into the box too quickly. Have you ever wondered why the opposition knows the slant pattern is coming before our own receivers? We might need a structural change there.

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Which brings back another comment about the Spartan offense. I am sure more than one fan was sitting in his living room and remembering how the Spartan offense just shredded a similarly stingy Buckeye defense in 2005 with 463 yards of total offense. Unfortunately that day, the Coaches were “screwing it up” on special teams and defense. You just have to wonder if the Spartan offense, defense, and special teams will ever be all on the same page.

The current offensive strategy is similar to how Perles got into trouble in his tenure, he could run over inferior opponents, but struggled for the most part against the big boys by forcing the issue, or should I say, the running game.  

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Anyway, I do have faith in a few things with this program. The players  seem to be determined and want to win not only for themselves, but for Coach Dantonio and the staff as well. I am also impressed by linebacker Greg Jones and his mature comments for a true freshman. He said he didn’t think this was going to be an easy game with Iowa, but a ‘tough’ game and that is how he is approaching it. Gee, I nearly fell out of my chair. Let’s hope all the players are respecting the Hawkeye’s and taking this one game at a time, lest they be handed their tails for the plane ride home.

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But remember this, if anybody tells you-“Nah, this isn’t a program game.” Just remember, they don’t realize the recent history of MSU, they don’t realize the importance of recruiting and thus negative recruiting, and they don’t remember the importance of finishing what you started out to do. The Spartans can’t reach all the goals they sent out for themselves early in the year, but they can reach the most important goal, and that is the respect that has eluded this program for some time. And when you have respect, you get recruits, and when you get recruits, someday you get to wake up the sleeping giant of college football that MSU always seems to be. Dantonio doesn’t need to be Biggie Munn or Duffy Daugherty, he just needs to pull out the smelling salts and wake up the Rip Van Winkle of the Big Ten-

our own beloved Spartans. So even though Coach Dantonio will tell you all games are the same (and I am in no way saying he doesn’t believe that) this game is a HUGE PROGRAM GAME in my opinion.

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