News and Notes from Michigan State Spartan Football

Hondo S. Carpenter

Minnesota is NOT a good football team. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t dangerous. They are believers in Coach Kill and they fight for him. Coach Dantonio knows that is a dangerous combination for the Spartans coming off of a tough four game schedule. “I think emotion has played a part in that football game. It'll be very emotional coming into any game, but you've got to be able to keep that emotion throughout. So when a big play is made like a kickoff return or an interception by Johnny Adams or a kickoff return by Nick Hill, which were great plays, we've got to be able to sustain those and build on those and allow those things to sort of ignite us, much like Darqueze's field goal block down here sort of ignited us in the Wisconsin game. We were able to go down and score and it was game on.

We'll look for those things to continue. But if you had to say one thing, one reason, I would say it was that. We never could just sort of get over the hump and get that momentum that would allow us to play into that football game. It was close, relatively close at halftime, I felt. We needed to come out the second half and sort of catch on fire. Played pretty well defensively the first half. Third quarter we did not play well enough for whatever reason, penalties or whatever reason, and we've got to build on it and get better and move on.

So with that, the Minnesota game is up. I think Coach Kill, Jerry Kill, has done an unbelievable job wherever he's been, and he's building a program right now. You always look at football teams and ask whether they're improving or are they getting worse, and with the win against Iowa last week where they sort of controlled the entire fourth quarter from a ball control standpoint, you would say that they're getting better. They're going to play extremely hard. They're going to play with a lot of emotion.

If you look at their sideline -- I don't care whether they're down 45 to 7 against Wisconsin. If you look at their sideline it's emotional, and they're going to bring that excitement with them when they come here. So it'll be important that we recognize that fact and play to the most of our abilities.

Offensively they want to run the football, which I think is a good mark of any good football team is they try and build on it, and they're not just going to all of a sudden just throw that out the window and start throwing the football 50 times. They want to run the football. Bennett is their tailback, probably has the most carries, and obviously Marqueis Gray, actually, their quarterback, has more carries than anybody. They will throw a controlled passing game, but they're going to try and do it the right way and not going to just fly by the seat of their pants. They have a plan, they'll stick to the plan, and they'll be a team that continues to build as they move through this conference and in the future.

On the defensive side of the ball, playing again hard, got to come up with more turnovers. If you said one thing that's hurting them, they're not coming up with as many turnovers. They've got seven or eight starters back on the defensive side of the ball from last year, and even though the score was 31 to 8 at the end of the game as I remembered, it was a very competitive game early on. So we'll go with that, and I will just answer some questions.”


One of the best things to happen to Mark Dantonio was Minnesota upseting Iowa. With the four game stint that the Spartans just played, this will help get the Spartans attention. “I think it gives them instant credibility in terms of a football team that you'd better not overlook because they play with a lot of emotion. They controlled the line of scrimmage in the fourth quarter and against an Iowa football team, that's difficult to do. To be able to run the football consistently in the fourth quarter, that's a testament. You have to build -- you can build on that if you're Minnesota. As far as where we're at, we're looking for number seven, and seven means complete. So we're looking for number seven, and we'll just continue to try and do that.”


It is impossible not to like Minnesota QB MarQueis Gray. He has a great game and Dantonio recruited him. “MarQueis Gray was an excellent quarterback coming out of high school. He was a highly recruited guy. We were actually recruiting him, as well. He's gone from quarterback to wide receiver, now he's back at quarterback this year, so it's not been something where he's been the quarterback throughout, but he's an excellent athlete. I think he's got toughness, think he throws a live ball. He's got a very strong arm. But yeah, you see him grow a little bit as a quarterback. You see hick making plays. He's got the ability to take a bad play and make it a good one, there's no question about that, and he can move with it, and there's a lot of designated quarterback runs or designed quarterback runs and then there's also times where he just breaks the pocket and makes it happen. So he's a guy that there's no question we have to be able to control him if we're going to win this football game.”


I am intrigued that after being told how much we would see Tony Lippett on both sides of the ball, I am shocked we aren’t. I asked Dantonio about it. “Well, Tony did start the game last week, and he played about 12 plays on the defensive side of the ball. With Bennie Fowler being out, Tony got some reps on the offensive side of the ball. We have three seniors, those three guys doing a pretty good job. So Tony was the fourth guy in there. Then with some injuries on the defensive side of the ball, we had to move Tony back over to the defensive side of the ball, Fowler came back, so he's the third corner. He's the next corner in the game. We're going to usually keep those corners in there. But he shows up on special teams right now.

He's going to be a great player for us. I think he's probably a little disappointed, as well, but we go back and forth as to where we're going to play him. You know, there's four games left, so we'll see how it all shakes out. But he's a good football player, great young man, great person, great attitude.”

Opposing teams have publicly and privately expressed surprise and some shock about the under utilization of the MSU tight ends. Dantonio doesn’t agree, “Nebraska did an excellent job walling our receivers up, tight ends included, predominantly rushed four people the majority of the game, from a chaos type of alignment on 3rd down, which they were moving around, no particular movement, and they'd hit the line of scrimmage. We couldn't get open.

The bottom line was they had us walled up and covered, whether it was three or two or four or three but they always had somebody underneath a player. They did a nice job recognizing the routes that we were running, and they walled us up. They took away B.J., and as I said, when we don't have explosive plays, there's a difference there.

I thought we were able to run the football, but you can't continue to run the ball when the score gets a little bit lopsided. So when it goes 17 to 3 and they've got 13 minutes or whatever it was of the third quarter, it becomes a different football game as you enter the fourth quarter. And ultimately instead of getting the ball back and getting our offense -- 10 to 3 and getting our offense in rhythm running the ball which we were able to do in the football game, and really in the third quarter when we got it, it becomes 17 to 3, and we've got to throw it a little bit more.

But from what I saw, they did a great job in pass coverage. Credit them and what they did. Credit their coaches, however you want to do it. But it wasn't that we were running the same patterns. It wasn't just the same monotonous thing. It was different routes, different things that we were doing, and when those things get down, the quarterback has to choke the ball, and that's when the rush gets to them.

But Cousins did a nice job a couple times scrambling out of the rush, but that's what happened. As far as running the football, you know, you can't run it every single time. But I did think we ran the ball okay. But then the score indicated that we had to do other things, as well.”


The Huskers really put the smack down on the Spartans on Saturday. Dantonio addressed the health of his team, “Well, we did get banged up and we lost some guys for the game. I think that those guys will be back. They may be hindered a little bit during the week here for a day of practice or maybe a little bit tentative or however we say it, put them in a yellow shirt early in practice where they can practice with no contact, but they should all make it back. I would anticipate everybody being there.”


The Spartans have struggled with some slow starts. In fact they have given up a TD to their opponents on their opening drive the last three weeks. What does Dantonio think on that? “Maybe we need to receive. I mean, we're ready to play. I just -- sometimes -- especially when you're playing a football team that's a no-huddle football team like Nebraska was, you have to -- it's very difficult to simulate, and the same thing what you said for Michigan, very tough to simulate their dynamics of their no-huddle offense, how fast they're coming, how the players are coming in, the different things. Everybody is going to have some new wrinkles that they're going to use against a football team in a game, so you have to be able to adapt to those things I think as the game progresses. We've been able to do that, definitely versus Michigan, pretty well against Nebraska. I thought we did that against Wisconsin, as well, as the game moved on. So that's a part of it. It's very difficult to simulate that throughout the week.”


This stretch of games in November is much more friendly to the Spartans then October was. Dantonio knows that good things can happen if the Spartans run the table this month. “In our history since we've been here in November, I think our football team is a 9 and 3 football team, so we've played well in November all four years that we've been here thus far and we'll continue to try and improve on that as we move into this November. We've always talked about November is for contenders. We've played a tough stretch these last four games, it's going to be a tough stretch these next four. That's just the way it is in November. But that's our outlook, that's our mindset. I do feel, or we do feel, like all the goals are in front of us. We're tied for the lead in the Legends Division, and if we win out, good things can happen, either way you cut it. Either we're in the championship game or we're not and we're sitting there 10 and 2. So we have an opportunity to do that. That has to be our goals, and we'll let everything else play out as it is. But there are a number of teams that have opportunities to do that on this side of the conference. So we'll see how it all shakes out.

But we're still a football team that's won 17 out of our last 21 games. We do have to find a way to win away from home. I thought we conquered that a little bit, but we went to Nebraska and didn't win on the road, first time we had been there since '96. When we go to Northwestern and we go to Iowa we have a history of being able to go there and play. We'll at least have an idea of what that all entails in terms of the environment there.

Our seniors have opportunities to win as many games or more as any senior group in 114 years at Michigan State, so we'll build on that, as well, and those are good things to look forward to. So we're a 6 and 2 football team, and we're not 7 and 1. I wish we were sitting here 7 and 1, but whether you lose by one or whether you lose by 21, we're still 6 and 2.”


Finally Kirk Cousins will be speaking this Thursday at a campus wide evangelical event. It is being billed by Campus Crusade for Chris as an, “I Agree with Kirk” event. It is an event where Cousins will share what brought him to a true and meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ. Not a religious experience, but a personal relationship with Jesus. Dantonio was asked about it and he wasted no time saying, “I agree with Kirk. I do. I think it's a great thing that he's doing. When you play football here, I guess you have a platform, and if you can use your platform for good, that's a positive thing.” Dantonio shares the same faith that Cousins has. I realize that most of you won’t care, but I agree with Kirk, for the record.