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It's been a while

Andrew Mouranie
November 3, 2009
andrew.mouranie@gmail.com

Hey guys, I am back.

Sorry for the absence, I have started graduate school and it is kicking my @$$ to say the least. But I have gotten into the groove of being back in school so hopefully I have some time to jot down some thoughts on our beloved Michigan State football team.

Wait…breaking news!

Adam Weber just threw another touchdown pass against the Spartan secondary.

All kidding aside, how embarrassing was Saturday night’s game against the Golden Gophers. The Spartan defense could not pressure the Gopher signal caller and the secondary was just lost. Is it coaching? Probably a little. Is it lack of talent? Probably a little. But after seeing this unit play so well for a month then lay an egg like that was just frustrating to watch.

On the offensive side, for a team that has the mindset to run the ball at people, having your running backs combine for 32 yards is inexcusable. Freshmen Edwin Baker and Larry Caper are going to be good, if not great players, but they are starting to look like freshmen.

Kirk Cousins was pretty good, again. He is showing signs of becoming one of the league’s best quarterbacks the next couple years. He made a tremendous play on the touchdown pass to Brian Linthicum in the second quarter… then was pulled on the next drive. Coach Mark Dantonio needs to play him for a full 60 minutes and use Keith Nichol in certain situations (more on the later). The receiving core was good also. Anyone else think B.J. Cunningham is going to be the next great wide receiver at MSU? The sophomore could only catch a cold a year ago but is now making big plays opposite Blair White.

Another idea for Dantonio – get the ball to Keshawn Martin. As seen on Saturday, the guy is explosive and dangerous with the ball in his hands. He can do multiple things and for a team that lacks home-run threats, he is one. He used to play QB at Westland John Glenn High School, so I wouldn’t mind seeing him line up in the ‘Wildcat’ formation from time to time.

Anyway, since I had a couple midterms this past week, I figured it was time to grade the Spartans through their first nine games.

Defensively, Greg Jones has been the man (as expected) while Eric Gordon and Jerel Worthy have been pleasant surprises, but where are the other eight guys? There have been games where they were very good (Iowa, Illinois, Michigan) and then some they were very bad (Central Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota). Up until the Minnesota game, I thought they had turned the corner. Well, they took giant steps backward up in Minneapolis and I don’t know what to think of them anymore. For a unit that was supposed to be the team’s strength, the general consensus is that they have greatly under performed. I tend to agree.

Defensive line: B (Pretty good against the run, but often lack a pass rush)
Linebackers: A- (Jones and Gordon have been tremendous, too bad nobody knows who the third one is)
Secondary: D+ (Adam Weber just threw another touchdown pass)
Overall: C

Offensively, they have been great through the air. They lead the Big Ten in passing offense, averaging about 273 yards per game. That sounds good, right? Well if you are a team designed to run the ball a lot, not so much. Because of the lack of a running game, they have no choice but to throw it and throw it and throw it again. The quarterback play has been good. Both Cousins and Nichol have performed about as well as you could expect. I do think they should play Cousins the whole game and be a true #1 guy, but I would use Nichol the same way Florida used Tim Tebow during his freshman season.

With no running back proving he can be the goal-line/short-yardage guy, why not just spread the field and let Nichol take shotgun snaps and allow him to power his way into the endzone? Just a thought…

Caper, Baker, Winston, Ray… whoever has lined up back there this year have been adequate. But they need someone to get the tough yards and it is just lacking. Winston was starting to show that but unfortunately his injury has ended his season. Ray is now gone. And as I said earlier, Baker and Caper just haven’t had enough time to develop into that yet.

Not all the blame for the running game should be placed on the running backs; the offensive line has been disappointing as well. They have not been able to open up the holes for these guys to run through. Simple as that. With no blocking, it doesn’t matter how talented your running back is, they are not going to be successful. On the positive, however, they have only allowed 10 sacks all year. That is one fewer than conference leaders in that category, Penn State and Indiana, who each have allowed nine.

Offensive line: C+ (Good pass protecting, bad run blocking)
Quarterbacks: B+ (Both have been efficient and done some good things)
Running backs: C (Winston’s injury was a serious blow and the freshmen, especially Larry Caper, might be hitting the wall)
Wide receivers: A (Most consistent unit on the team)
Overall: B (Ehh, not bad)

So throughout the team’s first nine games, there have been some good moments. Caper’s TD run to beat Michigan or the hook-and-ladder and subsequent TD catch by Blair White against Iowa come to mind. But this team needs to learn how to win. They lack experience in the key positions and as much as people liked to badmouth Brian Hoyer a year ago, that was his best attribute. He had been there before and knew how to lead. To get this program where it needs/wants to be, they need to win close games and learn how to win the 4th quarter. It might be too late to save this season, but the future does look bright.

I do see them finishing at 6-6, 4-4 in the league and a trip to the Insight Bowl. As much as the bowl is not viewed as prestigious, I wouldn’t mind spending New Year’s Eve playing 18 holes then watching the Spartans in shorts and a t-shirt.

Below are my projections for the Big Ten bowls:

Iowa (11-1, 7-1) – Rose Bowl vs. Oregon (Pac-10 winner)
Penn State (11-1, 7-1) – Orange Bowl vs. Georgia Tech (ACC winner)
Ohio State (9-3, 6-2) – Capital One Bowl vs. LSU
Wisconsin (10-2, 6-2) – Outback Bowl vs. Tennessee
Minnesota (6-6, 3-5) – Champs Sports Bowl vs. Clemson
Michigan (6-6, 2-6) – Alamo Bowl vs. Nebraska
Michigan State (6-6, 4-4) – Insight Bowl vs. Missouri
Northwestern (6-6, 3-5) – Little Caesar’s Bowl vs. Kent State

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