Spartan Football Essentials: Paul Bunyan’s Back in Town

Spartan Nation senior writer Jon Schopp is here to discuss Michigan State's 27-24 victory over Michigan.
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OFFENSE

Ann Arbor, MI – The Rock n Roll Offense started hitting good notes at Michigan Stadium today. It wasn't all pretty, but there was a lot of shine and good signs for the future. Up front, MSU stayed competitive enough to give Lombardi time to throw when he needed and grind out 126 yards on 38 carries at Michigan. That's nothing to sneeze at. Injuries or not, the Offensive Line did enough to put MSU in a position to compete for the W through the final push.

Say it with us now, "Ricky White…all night!" What a coming-out party for the Freshman wideout from metro Atlanta. White gave MSU a fighting chance by breaking the Michigan game wide open. All of a sudden, the Spartan Offense got the ball downfield again, and often. What a difference the rivalry game made for an Offense trying to answer so many questions after stumbling badly out of the blocks. No need to look for big things from the speedy wideout from the south in year one though, he's already put his name and some numbers in ink, with plenty of snaps to go.

Will this end up a high powered Spartan Offense? Probably not. But the ability to move the ball downfield can only help a unit that will continue to struggle to run the ball effectively. On that note, the other Freshman from Georgia wearing #22, Jordon Simmons, can also make things happen. Simmons has a speed and burst we haven't seen in East Lansing for a minute. Look for him to get better by the week and physically stronger in the coming off-seasons.

There were head-scratching play-calling decisions from the rebooting Spartan Offense again, but give them credit for finally starting to take what an opposing Defense would give them. And for letting Rocky Lombardi loose a little bit. There's a lot more arm talent and leadership there than some around the vast Spartan Nation thought possible, but we still wouldn't know about it unless Jay Johnson and company decided to open it up a bit. Now that it's open, it should begin to flow more consistently.

With the lineup starting to take shape and the evidence that the Spartans can move the ball well through the air, the Offense should get better and better. If they can take what a Defense presents them, even if it means going heavy pass to run for more than a Half, they will see better and better production. There are enough players around this unit to get things done. If they get a bit healthier up front, we might see some more explosive plays next week at Iowa.

DEFENSE

The Spartan Defense is on the way back. They had some pop, they had some grit, and they had some freshly squeezed juice at Michigan today. While they will grind as a unit to figure out why they couldn't get a sack or two in the final Michigan drive to close it out, they begin next week knowing they can compete with the best of the Big Ten. That's a really good sign for the coming stretch.

Scottie Hazelton and staff, including the selected Dantonio returners, look to be quickly repairing the foundation of one of the better defenses in the country. Michigan looks to have a nifty Offense that will probably score many points on a lot of teams this year, but against the Spartans, they looked frustrated too often, and the Spartans stopped them often enough to stay competitive. Again, after the last two years of not being competitive in the rivalry game, that says a lot. It also helps Hazelton and his staff lean into this unit to convince them they can be much better than Big Ten expected.

It should be a while before Michigan State faces an Offense with as much firepower and support as Michigan brings to play. U of M has spared few expenses in trying to organize and produce an attack that can help win them a Big Ten title for the first time since 2004. The 27-24 loss was a humbling reality check for the Michigan Offense and a good-sized shot in the arm for the Spartan Dawgs defense that is starting to get it going again in East Lansing.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Matt Coghlin made the kicks MSU needed and lifted the entire team with the 51-yarder to push the Spartan momentum to the next level. He missed one late, looking to be lined up left before pull-hooking it a bit off the snap, but there is little doubt that the Senior specialist is ready for big kicks again. Coghlin's work the first two weeks suggests MSU's kicking game has returned to strength.

Despite the balky onsides kick attempt at the end of the game, Connor Heyward wasn't thrown off and secured the goods to set up the snaps. The Spartans cleaned up some things on special teams and left some angles and lane assignments out there to be corrected this week. This unit looks to be returning to form with a decent upside ahead.

INTANGIBLES

They all count one, but no game means more to Spartan Football than the Michigan game. The modern era of the rivalry began when Nick Saban and Lloyd Carr both took over. Nick Saban won his first game in the nation's most bitter rivalry, and Mel Tucker's first cut the Michigan lead back to two since 1995. In case there's still anyone around you that thinks the series has been one-sided lately, feel free to remind them of these facts. And there's no doubt that one of Mel Tucker's early goals is to get that Michigan edge erased and replaced by a lead for the Spartans.

In the distant past, a win over Michigan was a season maker for a chunk of the Spartan Nation. Those days are long gone, and that era of College Football is firmly stored away in the history books. But this program has just provided itself the biggest booster possible on the 2020 schedule. Look for the confidence spawned at Michigan Stadium today to compound and expand in the coming weeks. There is no reason the Spartans should slow down their recovery from here.

EXTRA POINT

These days there's almost never a College Football game that you can't find on a screen. So many games, so many networks, and outside of the rare hard to find Pac 12 Network, when's the last time you can honestly say you couldn't find a game on TV that you really wanted to see? That's great for College Football, but it's such a bold contrast from the NFL.

Almost every Sunday, millions of football fans can't get the NFL game of their choice unless they subscribe to a pretty expensive national package. There's nothing wrong with selling that convenience, but there is something wrong with having such a challenge for fans to find the games they want to see.

The NFL is probably the most popular form of broadcast entertainment in this country. Do the fans a favor: move Thursday Night Football to Friday night in 2021, and start all Sunday NFL games at 1:00 local time. That will spread things out a bit more, give fans a chance to see more NFL teams, and give us a regular diet of exciting endings for the entire country to enjoy.

Tell us what you think in the comment section below.

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