Spartan Football: The Outlook Moving Forward…Indiana

Jonathan Schopp

After their 37-21 win in Iowa City, the Spartans return home for Senior Day and a battle for the Old Brass Spittoon at high noon against the Indiana Hoosiers.

Offense

The Spartans ran the ball more effectively on the road Saturday than they have all year. Led by Le’Veon Bell, who ran with authority from the first carry of the day, MSU’s true total from Bell and Baker was for 163 on 33 carries. Not spectacular, but certainly effective, and a solid run blocking effort too for the unit to build on this week against a weaker Indiana.

Kirk Cousins led from the front Saturday, and displayed the maturity and game management skills that Spartan Nation has been looking for consistently. Cousins had time to throw Saturday, and actually threw the ball away at least four times when it was without a doubt the right play. In the past, we’ve often seen Cousins try to force things, producing a disappointing result. But things were different in Iowa City this time around. Cousins was willing to take what the Defense gave him, and they gave him more than enough.

Cousins helped build on the Spartans’ early momentum, and made some memories in a 1st Half that included 3 Touchdown passes to put the Hawkeyes to an early bed. Cousins should not be needed nearly as much this Saturday. In fact, it should be a goal of this unit to keep Cousins from getting hit even one time, and to get Andrew Maxwell into action as soon as reasonably possible. That might mean either scheduling significant time for Maxwell to get in, or replacing him for Cousins once the Spartans are more than two scores (> 16 points) ahead.

The biggest issue the Offense had Saturday was around the snap. About four balls were mishandled by Cousins and his exchange. Given the musical Centers MSU has been playing lately (due to injury), it’s reasonable to expect such a concern. But that issue must be resolved immediately. If you look back at the 1st Half KO Saturday, it nearly never got rolling, but for Cousins falling on the first fumble issue of the day. Had that recovery gone to Iowa, you’d probably be looking back at different final score today. Expect the “exchange” issues to be resolved with a solid week of practice from all, and a more stability again at the Center position.

Defense

The biggest task facing this unit Saturday was to keep the Big Ten’s top rusher from getting a head of steam. Marcus Coker was kept to just less than half his average yardage total (57 yards on 21 carries) as the Spartan Dawgs clogged up the middle and pushed the Hawkeyes around up front to keep him in check. Much of the Iowa game plan was dictated towards the air game after they fell so far behind, and the wounded and wobbling Defense had its ups and downs, given the various lineups that were in there. But Johnny Adams made one of the plays of the game early when he batted a ball around, coddled in the INT, and then made a good return out of it.

This unit’s organizational leader Max Bullough shined again on Saturday. So much of what the “Mike” Linebacker does can end up going unnoticed. Whether its being sure the team is lined up correctly or communicating what Defense has actually been called, a lot of responsibility lies on the on a Mike’s shoulders. Fortunately for Spartan Nation, Bullough has been preparing for this role for a long time now, and he’s only a Sophomore. He should remain the Defense’s leader for a long time coming.

This unit is very good all over, but don’t discount the importance of the beef upfront in the middle. Anthony Rashad White, Kevin Pickelman, and of course Jerel Worthy lead the way when it comes to stopping the run. Without their work inside, you probably don’t see as many sacks and pressures from the edge, and you surely wouldn’t see as many teams have such a hard time moving the ball on the ground.

This Defense has gone from one that has a couple outstanding players along with a couple significant gaps, to having outstanding talent all over, youth, and enough depth to stay among the nation’s elite all year long. That’s a huge credit to the ability of this staff to not only develop talent, but to identify it. You don’t get this kind of effective depth without identifying and recruiting at a championship level. This Defense should threaten to dominate for at least the next two seasons.

Special Teams

What else can you say about Mike Sadler? The higher the stakes have been this year, the better Sadler has seemed to play. I was not one that thought (coming into the year) that the Punter could play such an important role. But given the way the Defense has developed during the year and the way the tighter games on the Spartans’ schedule have played out, Sadler has been very big at times. He’s been out there around some of the most important plays of the year. More than once, his kicks have been a “set up” to something magical (ex. Safety versus Wisconsin).

Kevin Muma had one of his better days Saturday, touching Iowa back more than a few times. Iowa did break two big returns, though one was negated by a block in the back, which this unit will have to pay attention to moving forward. Muma will need to retain consistency to establish a field position edge, and to help the Spartans avoid another game changing return (see Notre Dame).

This unit isn’t the 2011 Spartans’ best (as it was in 2010), but it’s still one of the better in the conference. There’s talent and skill all over, and they usually do a good job of executing the fundamentals. As the season wraps up, those fundamentals should determine how we remember this year’s bunch.

Overall

Don’t underestimate the emotional lift Spartan Football received by knocking out the Hawks in the 1st Half Saturday. They sent another loud message to the Conference, the nation, their critics, and perhaps most importantly, to themselves. It’s one thing to say you have confidence and a belief in yourselves, but another to demonstrate it on the field.

The Spartans should have two main goals going into Indiana. Win the game, and get out of it healthy. The first task shouldn’t be too difficult and should be long taken care of before the start of the 4th Quarter. The second must be managed wisely, and will likely include limited to no playing time at all for the most banged up of players. This team is far too talented and deep to get clipped by Indiana with a decent effort.

If you want to win the Legends, you do have to look forward to Northwestern a little bit. Chances are still better that the Spartans will need that “W.” The trip to Evanston has long been one many around Spartan Nation have feared. I don’t see it as that great a threat given the season they’ve had and condition of QB Dan Persa. But MSU should still do its best to be in the best collective shape to go across the lake to clinch the division.

Though it’s possible MSU could wrap up the Legends before the end of business this Saturday, they likely won’t know that while playing Indiana. There is another chance, however, that the Spartans might have clinch before the Northwestern tilt, after the “Corn Bowl” on Black Friday between Nebraska and Iowa.

The bottom line is that these are incredibly exciting times for Michigan St. Football. The Spartans need to go take care of their business, and the rest will play itself out. If they beat Indiana swiftly and soundly, while getting as healthy as possible in the process, they will have continued their process to “Prepare for the Rose Bowl.”

P.A.T. (Perhaps Another Thought…)

  1. Without a doubt, the Penn St. scandal already looks like it will go down in history as one of the biggest we’ve ever seen. Yet, while citizens (not just fans) want more information immediately, they must remain patient. They have no choice. They must also accept the reality that all the “facts” may never come out in public. At best, it looks like Joe Paterno was in a position of power for far too long and didn’t have a clue what was happening in his program.  At worst, he looks like a potential criminal of nearly 15 years. Say it ain’t so, Joe Pa. Better yet, prove it.

*Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JPSpartan, and find him inside the Phalanx Forum

Comments

Football

FEATURED
COMMUNITY