Today's Front Burner Question/Topic:
While we do not know the running back rotation, certainly the running game will change without Bell and Roushar.
- What do you expect from the Spartan running game in 2013?
- What do you WISH to see in terms of schemes and philosophy?
I expect the MSU ground game to improve over last year, both in total yards rushing, and in yards-per-carry. Good chance that touchdowns will also be up over 2012.
LeVeon Bell was a very good college running back, but with all due respect, he was another Lone Ranger coming out of the backfield, just as the great Javon Ringer was in his final season. It becomes impossible to disguise your runs when there's only one horse saddled up the whole time.
The best rushing attacks in recent Spartan history have all come with two significant runners sharing the load effectively. George Guerre and Lynn Chandnois. Levi Jackson and Richie Baes. Tico Duckett and Hyland Hickson. Lorenzo White and Blake Ezor. Duane Goulborne and Sedrick Irvin. Edwin Baker and Larry Caper. Jehuu Caulcrick and Javon Ringer. All of these combo-attacks were ultimately more effective than the One Big Guy approach to running the ball.
There is no One Big Guy this year, making it possible that two or three players will come out of the backfield, with no background information on them available to opposing coaches. It will be impossible to key on any running back for any reason, at least deep into the schedule until such time that one player may take over the position. I expect several guys to be getting 5-10 carries well into the conference schedule.
This situation makes Michigan State essentially "invulnerable" to injury at the running back position. No chance mishap will destroy the ground game this year, as the main weapon may actually prove to be the element of surprise. This factor will manifest in play-calling and actual performances by any of several guys who will all get chances in the first three games. The coaches have the opportunity to maintain the element of surprise by creating patterns early in the season that serve as "bait" for play-calling "traps" later in the season when they will need every edge they can get, especially in the final four games.
Would I rather be going into the season knowing that a certain hall-of-famer was coming back for his senior season along with a promising younger player as a backup? Probably, but the next guys to fit that bill may be coming from this new group. It's a lot easier to gain yards by running through actual holes in the line of scrimmage, and the offensive line may be able to get their job done for the no-names better than they did last year for Bell.
As for my WISH for the running game, it would be the WISH-BONE, at least as a small-package that could be used in short-yardage and clock-management situations. What's neat about the Bone is that you can learn six plays that come out of the same formation, and all of them can be effective. With a formation wrinkle or two, you've got 10 or 15 plays that can be practiced easily yet still be productive in limited use. This is all the more true with a running quarterback, as you add in the quarterback-option-keeper.
And nobody would be looking for it, because nobody does it. (Maybe Army.) While it would take extra time from the Spartan Offense to prepare the package, it would take practice time away from opponents during the season. The successful use of the Bone early would force opponents to defend against it later.
By adding a third running-back to the offensive playing group, the element of surprise is magnified by another dimension. With a stable of nobodies to put into those positions, anybody could do anything and the defense wouldn't know what was coming. And don't think you can't pass out of the Bone.
This is my annual wish for the MSU ground game, and I don't expect it to happen, but any football fan can have his dreams.
I fully expect to see 2009. MSU is not going to have one or two guys that put the running game on their back but they are going to have multiple guys that step up throughout the year. Now I don't expect to see 7 different guys lead the team in rushing in various games but that team combined for nearly 1800 yards on the ground. Now I understand that 1800 yards is not a lot but compared to 2010 (the season that most associate with Mark Dantonio's "run first" offense even though 2007 was the most successful rushing team under Coach D) its not that far off. In 2010, MSU averaged 152 YPG running the ball 34 times per game. In 2009, the team averaged about 16 yards less per game but were also averaging 2 less runs per game. So I would expect to see lots of guys (at least 4) contribute in big ways but still have solid numbers.
And this will be an improvement on last year. Not to take anything away from LeVeon Bell, but last years team averaged just short of 150 yards per game which is a fine total but it took nearly 38 carries per game to get there. That is 4 more rushes than 2010 (when we averaged more yards per game) and 6 carries more than 2009. So while the total was more, the efficiency was down. While Coach D likes to pound the ball, it is running the ball that sets up the passing game and the big plays. The effectiveness and the efficiency of the running game is more important than the total. Last year, we didn't have either.
I believe the thunder and lightning style running has to come back. With bigger bodied guys like Bullough, Holmes, and Williams I would like to see them knock some teeth out of the other sides defense. Then let loose with guys like Langford, Tompkins and Hill (In reality, I would like to see Hill used more like what we have heard with Shelton. Get the ball to him in space and let him work because he struggles to make his own space). Coach D wants his 4 YPC and that is why the bigger guys will always have a spot. At the same time he wants big plays so unleashing those others brings that aspect (but they have to still always be moving forward).
On a side note, I would like to see some read option to keep defenses on their toes. We have some speed backs that can get the corner but we also have some mobile QB's in the mix too. If you have a couple wrinkles that other teams have to prepare for, that can take away from their prep for your meat and potatoes offense.
It's all about transitions - RB, QB, WR.
In 2007, people saw Jeff Smoker had left and predicted doom. That year, the Spartans had the succesful tandem of experienced RBs - Javon Ringer and Jehuu Caulcrick. 2007 saw a successful QB transition. In 2006, Brian Hoyer got 1/3 of the pass attempts, 1/3 of the completions, and 1/3 of the passing yards.
In 2008, people saw Caulcrick's departure and predicted doom. 2008 became the one-man Ringer show - 97% of the rushing yards and 92% of the rushing TDs.
In 2009, people saw Ringer's departure and coupled with a QB transition felt certain it predicted doom. It was a bad QB transition year. Kirk Cousins had very little time on the field in 2008 and it showed. TDs across the board were down. In spite of the transition, unheralded Larry Caper and Edwin Baker became the new RB tandem and combined for more yards than Ringer alone did the previous season.
In 2011, Bell stepped in and with Baker combined for the same kind of numbers that Ringer and Caulcrick posted. It wasn't a tandem. It was a dual threat.
In 2012, people were anticipating greatness. 2012 became the one-man Bell show - 92% of the rushing yards, 92% of the rushing TDs. But, like 2009 it was a QB transition year and like Cousins in 2008, Andrew Maxwell. It was also a WR transition year and none of the receivers saw much playing time in 2011. As a result, TDs were down across the board, just like in 2009. Rushing TDs were about the same, but passing TDs were half of the 2009 mark.
In 2013, people are again prediction doom. Bell has left. It will be a RB transition year and none of the RBs saw much playing time in 2012.
So what can we expect in 2013? We will see a new tandem of running backs on the field. They may not produce either individually or combined the same kinds of numbers as Ringer or Bell, but it will be more than enough. Part of the reason it will be successful is the return of a veteran passing attack. Experience counts when you are looking for those "inches."
The Spartan offense works best when the rushing attack is a two-headed beast. It is much more difficult to scheme a defense with 2 capable RBs in the backfield. What makes 2013 so exciting is that there seem to be more than just 2 RBs who could see playing time. This means better rested runners and more options the defenses have to prepare for. It means a more open playbook.
Coach Dantonio will get back to the tamdem scheme of a fast, all-purpose back plus a bulldozer back. 2013 will once again see power football by the Spartan offense, but sans stars like Bell or Ringer.
Coach Dantonio has also learned that while it is important to put the best players on the field it is equally important to put next year's player in to get them prepared. We will see this, too.
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