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Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Golden Megaphone: Which team will play the loudest?

Can you hear that, Spartan fans? It’s the echo-ey sound of the Golden Megaphone. That’s right, the trophy given to the winner of the Notre Dame/Michigan state game dating back to 1949 sponsored by the Detroit alumni clubs of each respective school.  So before we break into this prime time showdown, let’s briefly recap last week.

Let me start by tipping my cap to the MSU athletic department. Not only did they schedule an away game with a MAC school team, but also kept it within the state of Michigan without taking a penny from the gate ticket sales. Give credit to CMU for its first-ever pregame sellout (albeit there were a lot of green shirts), as the Spartans played their first game at Kelly/Shorts Stadium. In the end, the game brought $5.2 million (to the city of Mount Pleasant according to Central Michigan Life). Lastly, if you didn’t see the uniforms by CMU last week, one word: Awesome. Not gaudy or too flashy, just sleek jersey/pant combo with a flat matte-finish, dark helmet with a tapered stripe.

Ok enough praise, let’s grade last week’s game in four

First Down: MSU offense: A-
41 points and 495 yards of total offense, as Andrew Maxwell went 20-31 for 275 yards and two TDs winning his first two career-starts (something Kirk Cousins never accomplished). Best of all, Maxwell put up these solid numbers turnover free and in just 3 quarters of football! MSU’s running game also racked up 173 yards and 3 TDs.

Second Down: Special Teams: A-
Punting & kicking game looked pretty good. Nick Hill is starting to come into his own in the return game, setting up good field position for MSU. He’s got big play potential, but he still needs to improve the downfield vision to become a game changer like Keshawn Martin was last year.

Third Down: MSU coaching: A-
Good play calls from Roushar. I like the confidence in Andrew Maxwell airing the ball out on the first play from scrimmage. Despite playing against (former MSU coach) Dan Enos, they still seemed to outwit the Chippewas all afternoon. Out of the 70 players MSU traveled with, 65 of them got to play. Good to see for a major program. Don’t count out Dantonio for a trick play during this game…

Fourth Down: MSU Defense: A
So why do I save the defense for fourth down? Maybe it’s because MSU’s defense forced CMU to go 0-3 on 4th down conversions Maybe you just save the best unit for last. This group gave up just 245 total yards, had two interceptions and was menacing all game, having yet to surrender an offensive TD this year.

Now let’s get back to the Notre Dame game:

MSU offense vs. Notre Dame defense
Average Height & Weight: 6’4” 295 lbs vs. 6’4” 312 lbs

Le’veon Bell ranks #6 among the nation’s top rushers and he’ll hope to carry the load of the MSU ground game as he averages 4.5 yards per carry. MSU is also the best in the big ten in passing, averaging 285 yards per game. Maxwell will need accurate throws and manage the time of possession. Some may argue that we need to run the ball down ND’s throats to open up the passing game. I disagree… slightly. I hope that MSU comes out with a truly balanced passing attack, this means grind out power football and play action pass on first down occasionally or throwing the ball downfield on a second down and short. I’d also like to see Maxwell a little bit more out of the pocket to demonstrate his mobility.

Notre Dame returns 6 starters on defense including their current leading tackler, Manti Te'o an NFL caliber linebacker. Keep an eye out for the Irish’s 3-4 defense to sometimes stack 8 guys in the box to thwart MSU’s rushing attack and force Maxwell into a passing situation on 3rd & long (8 or more yards). The Irish held Purdue to 90 yards on the ground and 198 yards in the air. On a sad note, Te’o had both his grandmother and girlfriend both die this past week, the latter with her battle with Leukemia.

MSU defense vs Notre Dame offense
Average Height & Weight: 6’4” 296 lbs vs. 6’4” 294 lbs

Purdue seemed to have success in limiting the Notre Dame offense by controlling the line of scrimmage last week, holding the Irish to just 52 yards on the ground. MSU will have to get after first-year starter Everett Golson’s on his first true road test. He’s an accurate but mobile QB but has yet to face a defense as strong as MSU. Look for a lot of roll out passes and, bootleg plays designed to get Golson out of the pocket. Now for those keeping score at home, Everett Golson could get confusing with MSU’s 6’7 278 pound defensive end, William Gholston. Golson, actually had a similar game as Maxwell last week going 21 for 31 with 289 yards and 1 TD (despite being benched for the final game-winning drive). The big question mark is whether Brian Kelly will let his quarterback remain in the game should any adversity happy early in the game. But plan to see ND’s tight end Tyler Eiffert to create some mismatches for a strong defense, especially when he’s lined up as a slot receiver. Eiffert will be complimented by a shifty runner in Theo Riddick, who is averaging almost 5 yards per carry.

NOT SO FAST MY FRIEND: The Spartan defense ranks 8th in the country in total offense and 5th in pass efficiency. I predict that defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi will blitz early and often. This quote from Narduzzi sums it all up:
“We really haven’t been happy at all,” he said. “If you ask the guys, Sunday, I came in and ripped them. It wasn’t good enough. That’s the God’s honest truth. We haven’t been where we need to be if we want to be where we want to be in the end. We’ve played solid defense, but we haven’t played mistake-free defense yet. There’s expectations. There’s expectations about where we want to be. They say we want to be here and there, then that’s how we want to coach them and grade them.” Narduzzi said MSU had a sharp defensive practice Tuesday but has lacked “focus” too often during games. “It’s one guy every play that’s out of place,” he said. “And we’ve got to get that straightened out. It’s focus every play, I would say. A little bit of communication. At all levels.”

X-Factor: Turnovers. Notre Dame is the #13 in turnover margin, so this game’s turnover margin could determine the winner.

Final Analysis:

MSU has won 10 out of the last 15 meetings (including the last 2 at Spartan Stadium). 9 out of the last 12 games have been won by 7 points or less. MSU offense has yet to surrender a sack this year while MSU defense has yet to surrender a TD! I expect both of those streaks will be broken Saturday night. Notre Dame will certainly give the Irish a fighting (no pun intended) chance. But MSU is far too deep on the defensive end. I suspect that our offense could struggle early but will eventually wear down the Irish defense with a big showing from Le’Veon Bell. Spartans score one late in the game, but the defense secures a victory for MSU

MSU: 24 Notre Dame: 17

Go Green!

Dan Stepanian-Bennett

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the weekly pre-game read Dan. Nice balance of basic facts, spiced with a little research (you can just keep some of that in your head) and opinion. Your contribution to the blog is greatly appreciated. My daughter re-tweeted it to massive following!


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