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Friday, October 28, 2011

Unit Analysis and How Each Could Impact Game vs. Nebraska

SpartanDan asked me to enter this post him...

I'm still recovering from last week's non-stop heart pounding win over Wisconsin, so my apologies if my weekly preview seems brief.

Let me break down Spartan squads and give a final prediction of the game.

Offensive Line
This embattled line has been called young, inexperienced and weak; yet still managed to help the offense reach nearly 400 yards of total offense last week against Wisconsin. They're
going to be facing another big, tough but winable matchup against Nebraska's defense which has averaged more than 25 points/game (54th in the country in points against). Timely points-- even if they come 3 at a time could prove useful.

Wide Receivers- Let me just say this about 'Rocket'-man Keith Nichol. He is one of the best blocking WRs and he's incredibly strong. In my opinion if any other WR catches that tip (Cunningham, Martin or Fowler) none of those guys possess the strength to get the nose of the football past two defenders to break the plane. Again I look to putting points on the board. They've surrendered 27 points or more four different times this season. Would love to see a pass from Nichol or Martin (both former QBs).

Running Backs- Baker needs to stop eating sticks of butter before his carries but it's good to see Bell stepping up and really getting some tough yards (and a bonus out of the backfield). I'm still not convinced Caper is anything but a 3rd down blocking RB. I like the rotation, but I think Baker is the more gifted, faster #1 back. Bell runs harder (Javor Ringer-esque) and has incredible downfield vision with better footwork as a great asset in goaline & short yardage situation. Caper is a decent blocking RB and has shown some ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.

Quarterback- We're starting to see more of the real Kirk Cousins. Besides 'Rocket' play and a 55+ yard throw on the fly, Cousins found seven different receivers and passed for almost 300 yards and 3 TDs. Let's not forget he has 11 TDs to only 3 INTs.

Defensive Line- The reinstatement of Free Willy Gholston is great. He's poised to stop Taylor Martinez and the option attack. But also look out for their RB Rex Burkhead. This team is #7 in the country in rushing. Spartans are #2 in the country in overall defense. Time to strap it up.

Linebackers- This squad will be the key to stopping Taylor Martinez. He can run. He can throw. But can outrun/outpass the MSU defense? LBs are the brain of this defensive squad.

Defensive Backs- Taylor Martinez has 7 TD passes but 6 INTs. Look for the DBs to get a pick if called upon...

Special Teams- Spartans blocked a FG, blocked a punt for a TD and have done well in the punting game lately. If we could see some better kickoff returns from Nick Hill this squad could once again be a game-changer.

Home Field Advantage- The Spartans handled their business against a hostile ("us vs the world") in Columbus against OSU. The Nebraska fan base are as loud as they are classy. For further proof see this great article about Neb football fans:

But Lincoln is going to be rockin at 11am. Let's hope they switch to decaf.

3 Keys to the Game:
1) Turnover free football
Not giving up the football through fumbles & interceptions-- especially in Cornhusker territory is a major key to this football game.

2) Not giving up "Big Plays"
This defense has shown time and time again (even after consecutive 3-and-out drives) to rise to the occasion. Despite some 4th quarter breakdowns last week, the key will be stopping Taylor Martinez early. I like stacking 8 guys in the box (with the occasional 9th as a CB blitz) but that puts a great deal of burden on the big uglies to get into the pocket and pressure the QB to make decisions early since the DBs are off on islands by themselves.

3) 3rd down performance
MSU plays their best football when they can control the game. This includes WRs (with Cousins) knowing down & distance on third down plays. Stretching no-loss runs into 3-4 yard gains can only help make 3rd downs easier to manage. I'd love to see more use of the TEs (like Linthicum et al). It's certainly an underrated and underutilized part of our offense.

The defense all season (save, ND) has a knack for a "bend but dont break" attitude. I'd love to see this continue. Look for Nebraska to run AWAY from Gholston's side, so maybe shade a weak-side LB more closer to the line. But if the d-line (Worthy & company) can get pressure early without blitzing backers or DBs and MSU can contain a top ten rushing team they can be very successful.

Final Prediction: MSU 28 Neb 24

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