Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Michigan State Preview Series: Overview

I gotta admit, it was somewhat nice this past weekend not really having many college football games to watch.  I did take in a bit of the Army-Navy game, but for the most part just spent time with some family, had a night out on the town with my wife, took my kids to see Santa, and enjoyed being away from the game a bit.  Granted, as soon as the bowls are over, I'll be going nuts on Saturdays wishing the season weren't over, but the break was kinda nice.

Now, however, I'm ready to start looking ahead to the bowl game.  I am still really excited about this matchup, and I think it's a dead even matchup.  How even is the matchup?  Well, take a look at these stats:

                   MSU          UGA
                                        Avg. Yds (Rk)CategoryAvg. Yds (Rk)
                                             247.5 (43rd)Pass Off.241.2 (47th)
                                              142.9 (74th)Rush Off.172.7 (41st)
                                              168.4 (11th)Pass Def.165.1 (8th)
                                              104.3 (12th)Rush Def.103.4 (9th)

The only glaring discrepancy there is the Rushing Offense numbers, but as we all know, our production in the rushing game has tailed off towards the end of the year.  Our last three games, we have rushed for 162, 128, and 78 yards, respectively.  So unless we see a big rebound in the bowl game, our current performance is not matching the season statistics due to injuries, personnel issues, etc that may or may not be sorted out come gametime.  So for all intents and purposes, I'm considering us pretty identical statistically.  Beyond the statistics, both teams won their respective divisions, lost in their conference championship games, and were hoping for a slightly better bowl than they received.  With both teams sitting at 10-3, each has a lot to play for.  Even having played in the conference championship game, a 4 loss season gives off an appearance of mediocrity.  Though the difference might be small, the perception between 10-4 vs 11-3 could go a long way towards building momentum for next year.

Today, I just want to take a quick glance at the team as a whole, then break down the specific units for MSU in subsequent posts this week.

The first thing that jumps out at me is the quality of work done by their head coach, Mark Dantonio.  Michigan State was a mess when he came in, as a result of the poor coaching jobs by Bobby Williams (15-17 record) and John L. Smith (22-26 record) after Saban left.  After serving as Tressel's defensive coordinator at Ohio State and a three year stint as head coach at Cincinnati, Dantonio took over Michigan State in 2007 and has put up records of 7-6, 9-4, 6-7, 11-2, and (so far this year) 10-3.  The overall upward trend there speaks to the quality of work he and his staff have done, not to mention the four game winning streak against their hated in-state rivals for the first time since 1963.  He will have his team well prepared to play us, and they will be eager to avenge not only their loss to us in 2009, but also the blowout loss to Alabama last year.  There's nothing Big 10 teams hate more than losing to SEC teams and having to hear about it.

Dantonio made his name on the defensive side of the ball, and the Spartan D has his fingerprints all over it.  I'll break down the defense further in a separate post, but they are VERY aggressive, and love to sack the quarterback, they actually average a half a sack more per game than UGA does.  Their offense is very streaky (we wouldn't know anything about that, huh?), but tends to play much better at home than on the road.  Against Notre Dame (31-13 loss), Ohio State (10-7 win), and Nebraska (21-3 loss), their offense was only able to generate 29, 71, and 101 yards of rushing offense, in what were clearly the team's three worst performances, all on the road.  I don't know what that means for a neutral site game - probably not much - but it's food for thought.  Their special teams are solid, though nothing spectacular.

Their season has had some highs and lows.  The highest of all had to have been what might end up being the play of the year, the bomb at the end of regulation from Kirk Cousins to Keith Nichol to beat Wisconsin in their regular season matchup:

I love when I'm actually watching the game when one of those types of plays happen.  Seeing those things happen in real time is a huge part of what makes you love college football.  

They had two other really nice wins where they soundly beat Michigan and Iowa, with the latter being an impressive 16 point road victory.  The lows for this year were getting beaten badly by Notre Dame and Nebraska, and a couple of less than inspiring wins over a horrible Minnesota team by only 7 points, and only beating Ohio State by 3 when the Buckeyes were still really struggling to find their sea legs.  Again, I'd say their year was very similar to ours........a few good wins, a couple of really ugly wins, a couple of bad losses, and one really close loss.......that sequence equally describes the year for both teams.  Heck, they even had some disciplinary issues too, with star DE William Gholston being suspended for acting the fool against the Wolverines. 

Again, I can't emphasize enough how similar these two teams are from a performance standpoint.  Not necessarily that similar from a schematic standpoint, especially on defense (they primarily run a 4-3), but the end results have been very similar throughout the year.  We'll look at their offense tomorrow and do some comparisons with the UGA offense.  Talk to you then.


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