Sunday, October 29, 2006

I'm back... What did I miss?

Okay, so I took a few weeks off. I was distracted by starting a new job and a little thing called the Major League Baseball playoffs and the World Series.

Who would have thought the World Series would have interfered with paying close attention to Spartan football?

Turns out, it was a good thing this year.

We last left off before the Michigan State/Michigan game in Ann Arbor. Michigan State lost that as expected, then got blown out by Number One Ohio State at home the following week.

Last week, many people thought MSU turned the corner after the amazing comeback against Northwestern. MSU was down 38-3 in the third quarter and rallied for a 41-38 win, evening their record at 4-4 and 1-3 in conference.

They turned the corner right? They had shaken out of the post-Notre Dame funk, right?

Not so much.

The Spartans were crushed by Indiana (Indiana?) this weekend 46-21. They now stand at 4-5, 1-4 in conference.

If only the World Series could have gone on a few weeks longer, we could have avoided the end of the season all together.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

"Spartan Bob" - Five years later

A villain, at least in the eyes of Michigan fans,
was born in East Lansing five years ago during the Michigan/Michigan State game, but he was not on the field.

He was not a player. He was not a coach. And he was not a referee.
"Spartan Bob," as he was named after the game, was the timekeeper in Spartan Stadium on November 3, 2001 as he had been for games year in and year out - but this game would be talked about for years.

As MSU trailed the Wolverines 24-20 with time running out in the fourth-quarter and no times-out remaining, Spartan quarterback Jeff Smoker scrambled towards the goal line. He didn't make it to the end zone, he was down at the two.

With the clock still running, Smoker rushed everyone back to the line of scrimmage so he could spike the ball.







The clock stopped.

The Wolverines thought the game was over, but the clock still showed :01 remaining.

"That's criminal!" shouted the play-by-play voice of the Wolverines.

The crowed went wild. "The Spartans are still alive!" they thought.

There was one play left.

Smoker got the ball, drifted to his right and floated a pass across his body to the back of the endzone over the outstretched arms of Michigan defenders and into the arms of a wide open T.J. Duckett.

"Touchdown MSU!" And a 26-24 Spartan victory over their rivals from Ann Arbor.

Michigan fans have never forgotten this game and they have never forgiven "Spartan Bob" for stopping the clock with :01 remaining for that final play.

There are some things, however, that Michigan fans have forgotten which really put the Wolverines in position to lose the game aside from what "Spartan Bob" may have done wrong. Such as:

  • A 15-yard penalty against U-M's Jeremy Leseur for pulling Charles Rogers down by his face mask on a fourth-and-16 play with 1:18 remaining. No penalty means a U-M victory.
  • Another penalty for having too many men on the field, giving the Spartans more yardage and keeping them alive.

The worst of all, and this somehow slips the Wolverine fans' minds.

The flag for too many men on the field came out late. Before the flag was thrown, MSU called its last timeout.

But the flag was thrown, the clock was stopped and MSU should have gotten its timeout back. And then Smoker would have been able to use it when he was at the two instead of hurrying to spike the ball and having "Spartan Bob" stop the clock.

No such luck.

As it happened, things still worked out well for MSU in that game, but not the rest of the season.

After the win over Michigan, MSU went on to lose its next three games before downing Missouri to become bowl-eligible. MSU then went on to defeat Fresno State 44-35 in the Silicon Valley Bowl.

Of all the stories and people who have been involved in this rivalry over the years, "Spartan Bob" will be one who is not easily forgotten.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

2006 = 2002?

So here the Spartans are again. Didn't they just go through this four years ago?

An embattled coach, coming off some embarrassing losses including a homecoming loss to an inferior opponent, facing a tremendous amount of heat from the media, alumni and fans and heading into Ann Arbor to face a strong Michigan team.

In 2002, Bobby Williams was 3-5, 1-3 and headed into Michigan with a backup quarterback leading his Spartans due to some off-the-field issues with his star starter. After taking a 3-0 lead to start the game, U-M then went on a 49-0 run to wax the Spartans. It was Bobby Williams' last game as MSU's coach, especially when he responded "I don't know" to a question about whether or not he has "lost" his team. He finished with a 17-18 overall record with MSU.

This season, John L. Smith is heading into Ann Arbor to face undefeated and sixth-ranked Michigan while hearing from the critics after blowing a 16-point lead to Notre Dame in the fourth quarter and losing 23-20 to an Illinois team that had gone 1-25 in its last 26 Big Ten games.

Also, like Williams, Smith had trouble coming up with answers for why his team failed to perform against the Illini. He said he couldn't get them to practice hard all week and didn't have the answer as to how to get them motivated.

Will John L. suffer the same post-Michigan fate as his predecessor?

Smith needs one, if not both, of the next two games. Both will pose a stiff challenge to MSU, heading to Ann Arbor and then bringing in #1-ranked Ohio State the following week.

We'll see if 2006 still has a chance to be a special season.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Sorry John L., we are on the other side now

We can't do it anymore Coach. There were still some holdouts. We gave you the benefit of the doubt - until today.

Your seat was warm before the season, now it is on fire and you should be fired right along with it.

Losing to Illinois was inexcusable.

Not only did they have a 10-game Big Ten losing streak coming into the game, but the game was at home, it was homecoming and they beat you from start to finish running the same play time and time again.

The beat you with the same zone-read play with Juice Williams. His name is not Vince Young, he is a true freshman named Juice Williams who put up 103 yards against you running the ball.

The thing is, your offense runs that play, so the defense has seen in plenty of times before in practice. Yet you still could not stop it.

True, both Javon Ringer and Drew Stanton left the game with injuries. But last I checked they don't play on defense and they weren't producing offensively when they were on the field.

You said it. You said it is the coaches job to get the team ready and prepared to play. If your team was not prepared enough to play Illinois for homecoming, when will they be ready to play?

It's over. The team has derailed and so has the season. This will be the first time the Spartans have stayed home three consecutive years during bowl season since the 18-year stretch between 1966 and 1984 when their simply weren't many bowls to go to.

We suffered through Louisiana Tech, Rutgers and Hawaii and now back-to-back homecoming losses to Northwestern and Illinois.

It is unfortunately obvious you are not the man to turn the Spartans around. Instead, we are seeing similarities between you and Bobby Williams and the 2002 season. A bowl win in your first year, experts suggesting you have lost your team and now a team ready to implode before playing Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Bobby and his team lost 49-3 that season, will you fare any better?

The new wagon I am on got awfully full today, will you or Ron Mason notice?

The loss that was more than a loss

If it wasn't bad enough that MSU choked away a 16-point fourth quarter lead at home against Notre Dame and followed that up by helping Illinois break their 10-game Big Ten losing streak by not showing up at Spartan Stadium on Saturday, it got worse.

Both quarterback Drew Stanton and running back Javon Ringer were knocked out of the game with injuries. Stanton looked just shaken up after a near fumble, but Ringer's injury looked much worse after taking a shot to his right knee in the first half.

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Brian Hoyer came in to lead the Spartans to two scoring drives to tie the game and Jehuu Caulcrick and A.J. Jimmerson are capable backups for Ringer, but those injuries did not come at a good time with Michigan and Ohio State next on the schedule.

We will have to wait and see how extensive the injuries are.

Illinois 23, MSU 20

And the collapse is on!

After blowing a 16-point fourth quarter lead last week against Notre Dame, many wondered how Michigan State would respond. Would the Spartans (3-2, 0-1) fold like a cheap tent as they did in 2005 after losing to Michigan? Or would they respond well and trounce one of the Big Ten doormats.

Now we know. And with games against Michigan and Ohio State looming in the next two weeks, the future of the Spartans 2006 campaign is a bleak as ever.

After letting Notre Dame chase Drew Stanton all over the field last week, Illinois (2-3, 1-1) was able to pressure Stanton all afternoon leading to five sacks and eventually knocking him out for the game in the fourth quarter.

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Brian Hoyer did lead two scoring drives to tie the game, but this game was on the defense.

Defensive coordinator Chris Smeland and his defensive crew gave up 252 yards rushing to the Ilini who came into the game averaging just 160 on the ground.

Meanwhile, the Spartan offense, put up just 259 yards and only 82 of those came on the ground (MSU had been averaging 255 rushing yards per game).

In the past five quarters, MSU has been outscored 42-20 and has put its season on the brink.

The house of cards that is Spartan football is coming down yet again.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Illinois - A fine way to get healthy

After collapsing against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish last Saturday, the Spartans could not have asked for a better teal to play against to regain their confidence.

Not only is it Homecoming in East Lansing, but Illinois is just 1-3 overall and 0-1 in the Big Ten so far this season. The Illini were defeated 24-7 by Iowa last week at home in the Big Ten opener for both teams.

Illinois has also provided a way for the Spartans to get healthy plenty of times over the last decade or so. MSU (3-1, 0-0) has defeated Illinois nine consecutive times and 10 out the last 11 - including four consecutive in games played in East Lansing.

Meanwhile, Michigan State blew a sure-fire win against Notre Dame last week, but still boast the top offense in the Big Ten and 5th ranked offense in the country. MSU's rushing attack is tops in the conference and 5th in the nation and it is ranked 5th in the conference and 45th in the nation in passing.

Defensively, the Spartans have the 7th rated defense in the conference and 54th in the nation.

Illinois brings in Juice Williams at quarterback who has completed just 22-of-62 passes for 427 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. They are led on the ground by Pierre Thomas who has rushed 40 times for 239 yards and two touchdowns.

This season, Illinois has been outscored 105-70, defeating Eastern Illinois and losing to Rutgers, Syracuse and Iowa. Of the Illinois 70 points, 42 of them came against Eastern Illinois and they were completely shutout by Rutgers, 3-0.

As I said, a perfect team to play to get healthy.

For the record: MSU leads the all-time series with Illinois 23-16-2 and leads 12-7-1 in East Lansing.

In last year's game (to put the Spartans to 4-0 on the season before the collapse of 2005), MSU waxed Illinois 61-14 in Champaign. Drew Stanton was 20-of-26 for 259 yards and a school record five touchdowns while Javon Ringer rushed 13 times for a MSU-freshman record 194 yards.

The Valenti meltdown

Alright, so this is a little old and you might not want to re-live ANY aspect of the MSU/Notre Dame debacle, but this is a classic bit of radio.

Normally, I am not into big time rants and raves on talk shows, I think most of the time they are phony. I just think it is impossible to go SO worked up about something, no matter how passionate you are about.

But this is special.

It comes to us from Mike Valenti, an MSU grad, who co-hosts "The Sports Inferno" with Detroit News columnist Terry Foster on 1270 WXYT The Sports Station in Detroit. Maybe I enjoy it so much because Valenti has a way with words and this show certainly has become a favorite of mine over the past few months.

Click here to relive those moments from Monday:

Sunday, September 24, 2006

MSU fans have seen this movie before

MSU takes a big lead, dominating its competition, running them up and down the field.
Then mistakes and penalties pile up.
MSU loses the lead and then the game.

Sound familiar?

Unfortunately for MSU fans, this scenario has played out far too often - especially in the past few years.

  • 2006 - MSU leads Notre Dame 31-14 at half, loses 40-37
  • 2005 - MSU leads at Ohio State 17-7 before a major special teams gaffe on the last play of the first half and subsequent second-half collapse to lose 35-24.
  • 2005 - MSU leads at Notre Dame 38-24 going into the fourth quarter, gives up 14 fourth quarter points and hang on for a 44-41 win in overtime.
  • 2004 - MSU leads at Michigan 27-10 and loses 45-37 in triple overtime.

As Spartan fans know all to well, the loss to Michigan in 2004 and the loss to Ohio State in 2005 were the starting points to humiliating season-ending meltdowns.

This season, after Saturday's collapse against the Irish, MSU has a home game against Illinois before taking on the Wolverines and Buckeyes in the following two weeks.

These Spartans need to show they can withstand the adversity they inflicted on themselves against the Irish and continue to battle as the Big Ten season begins - and after Illinois, it begins with a bang.

Notre Dame 40, Michigan State 37

Notre Dame scored 19 fourth quarter points to cap its come-from-behind 40-37 win over the Spartans on Saturday night in East Lansing.

The Spartans (3-1) led 31-14 at halftime, but faltered both on offense and on defense in the second half, allowing the Fighting Irish (3-1) to stay in and then ultimately win the game.

More analysis to come later when it sinks in.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

R.I.P. Frank "Muddy" Waters

Former Michigan State head football coach Frank "Muddy" Waters died at his home in Saginaw on Wednesday at the age of 83.

Waters coached MSU from 1980-82 and had a record of 10-23 during that span. Waters also was a fullback for the Spartans from 1946-49.

Waters also coached at Hillsdale College and Saginaw Valley State University.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

1966 Michigan State-Notre Dame revisited

When Michigan State and Notre Dame meet on Saturday night in Spartan Stadium in front of a national television audience, both teams will be honoring the teams who played in one of the greatest games of all time - the 1966 10-10 tie between No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Michigan State.

The game ended in a tie because of the strategy employed by Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian which is still debated today.

After being down to the Big Ten Champion Spartans 10-0 in the first half, Notre Dame came back to tie the game in the second half.

Then with 1:10 left in the game and possessing the ball on the Michigan State 30-yard line, Parseghian elected to run out the clock and settle for the tie instead of trying to work down the field for a game winning touchdown or field goal.

Should Parseghian have tried for the win? Or was he playing not to lose the game and therefore the national title? Would it have mattered?

Instead, the game ended in a draw, and after defeating USC the following week, Notre Dame was voted the National Champion by the media while Michigan State (also undefeated with a tie) finished #2. (The Spartans have also been recognized as 1966 National Champions according to the NCAA)

This game has been and will always be discussed in the lore of college football and the Michigan State-Notre Dame rivalry. Another reason it's great to be a Spartan.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

MSU 38, Pitt 23

The Spartans took care of business on their first road trip of the year, defeating the Pitt Panthers 38-23 to improve their mark to 3-0.

Despite some slow going on offense early and falling behind 10-0, MSU was able to rattle off 38 unanswered points in the second and third quarters to take control of the game.

I think this was the game many people were looking for - to see the offense make plays and control the game while the defense looked improved over last year.

More analysis to come later as yours truly is traveling for work and it is a big week with Notre Dame coming to town on Saturday. We'll see how the Irish feel after being waxed at home by the Michigan Wolverines.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Big plays are a big deal

It's hard to argue that Michigan State's Achilles heel over the past few seasons has been its defense - especially the secondary.

While it looks like the secondary is much improved this season with safeties Otis Wiley and Nehemiah Warrick leading the way with 20 and 15 tackles respectively. (Of course it is not a good thing to have your safeties leading the team in tackles, but we'll discuss that another day.)

As the Spartans head into Pittsburgh this weekend to battle the Panthers, the secondary will need to be on high alert.

In their two wins this season, Pitt has had scoring plays of 78-, 80- and 72-yards to their big receivers Derek Kinder (left) and Oderick Turner.

Behind quarterback Tyler Palko, the Panthers have thrown for an average of 275 yards per game so far this year, which is two more yards per game than MSU. MSU however, runs a more balanced attack by also running for 200+ yards per game compared to Pitt's 98.

For MSU to be successful on Saturday, Palko will have to be pressured and the secondary will have to come ready to play.

MSU and the Big East

As Michigan State heads into Pittsburgh this weekend for its first road test of the season, we should take a look at how the Spartans have done against teams from the Big East conference

The Spartans have, over time, compiled a pretty good record against teams from the Big East. They have a 21-9-2 mark against teams from that conference.

However, MSU has just a 4-5-1 in its last 10 games played against current Big East members. Those results are as follows:
  • 9/23/78 - Def. Syracuse 49-21 in East Lansing
  • 9/10/88 - Lost to Rutgers 17-13 in East Lansing
  • 9/15/90 - Tied Syracuse 23-23 at Syracuse
  • 9/29/90 - Def. Rutgers 34-10 at Rutgers
  • 9/28/91 - Lost to Rutgers 14-7 in East Lansing
  • 12/28/93 - Lost to Louisville 18-7 in the Liberty Bowl
  • 9/16/95 - Def. Louisville 30-7 at Louisville
  • 9/21/96 - Lost to Louisville 30-20 in East Lansing
  • 9/6/03 - Def. Rutgers 44-28 in East Lansing
  • 9/4/04 - Lost to Rutgers 19-14 at Rutgers

MSU is an underdog in Saturday's game, lets hope they can reverse the tide of the recent slide against the Big East.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Spartans representing in Texas

While watching ESPN's College GameDay broadcast from Austin, Texas on Saturday, you might have noticed some things that looked out of place as fans down there prepared for the Ohio State/Texas game later that night.

If a few shots of Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit, there was a Block S Michigan State flag flying in the background. Whoever was waving it changed it out with a Detroit Tigers flag from time to time as well.

Good work Texas Spartans!

We'll be keeping our eyes on the background during next week's broadcast!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Matt Trannon - Record Breaker

Michigan State senior wide receiver etched his name in the school record book on Saturday during the Spartans' 52-20 win over Eastern Michigan.

Trannon caught 14 passes in the game, surpassing former Spartan and current New York Giant Plaxico Burress who caught 13 passes in the 2000 Citrus Bowl win over Florida.

The names atop the school record book for receptions in a single game is impressive and now looks like this:

1 - Matt Trannon - 14 vs. Eastern Michigan (2006)
2 - Plaxico Burress - 13 vs. Florida (2000)
3 - Mitch Lyons - 12 vs. Michigan (1992)
4 - Josh Keur - 11 vs. Northwestern (1997)
Andre Rison - 11 vs. Indiana (1986)
6 - Charles Rogers - 10 vs. Fresno State (2001)
Plaxico Burress - 10 vs. Michigan (1999)
Plaxico Burress - 10 vs. Purdue (1998)
Derrick Mason - 10 vs. Michigan (1996)
Darrin McClelland - 10 vs. Michigan (1982)
Ted Jones - 10 vs. Illinois (1980)

Congratulations Matt Trannon!

MSU 52, Eastern Michigan 20

For the second week in a row, Michigan State defeated a second-rate opponent. And for the second week in a row, Spartan fans are left wondering exactly what kind of team they have.

MSU only lead 24-17 at halftime and the lead was cut again to 24-20 early in the first quarter before pouring it on the rest of the second half.

Like the Idaho game in week one, the postgame stats show MSU dominating the game, but EMU was able to put a few plays together in the first half to keep MSU fans interested and on the edge of their seats.

MSU put 586 yards of total offense on the overmatch Eagles, including 264 on the ground. EMU gained a total of 272 yards. Stanton also rushed for 33 yards on nine attempts and two touchdowns.

Drew Stanton was as efficient as ever connecting on 24 of 32 attempts for 254 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.

The running game was more effective than is was against Idaho, with Javon Ringer leading the way with 130 yards on 15 carries for a 8.7 yards per carry average. Redshirt freshman A.J. Jimmerson, in his first action of the season, gained 79 yards on 10 carries (7.9 ypr average).

The story of the game was Matt Trannon who broke the school record for catched in a game with 14 for 151 yards and two touchdowns and he even threw a TD as well.

Defensively, MSU showed more than they did last week against Idaho, limiting the Eagles to just 42 yards on the ground, but allowed 230 through the air.

More analysis to come this week as MSU takes its show on the road to Pittsburgh for the first road test of the season.

Michigan does Spartan fans no favors

A lightning strike near Michigan Stadium during the Wolverine's win over Central Michigan caused a one-hour "weather delay".

For Spartan fans awaiting the MSU-Eastern Michigan game at 3:30 p.m., that caused a problem.

Both the U-M and MSU games were on WXYZ-TV in Detroit, but thanks to the weather delay, the U-M game ran well over the allotted time and into the MSU time slot.

Luckily, the folks at WXYZ saw the U-M/CMU game was a blowout and switched over to the Spartan game - but not in time.

By the time the game switched over, MSU was already down 3-0 a few minutes into the game, causing fans like your truly to ask, "What the hell happened?"

Those Wolverines just can't stop interfering with the Spartans, can they?

Friday, September 08, 2006

Halting the MAC Attack

As Michigan State prepares to take on Eastern Michigan in its second game of the 2006 season tomorrow, it bring to mind an anniversary that Spartan fans would rather forget all about.

It's been 15 years since the first of MSU's back-to-back losses to Central Michigan of the Mid-American Conference in 1991.

And it still haunts Spartan fans and gives ammunition to fans of the other Big Ten schools. When people mention former MSU coach George Perles, they don't always remember the fact that he took Michigan State to its last Big Ten title in 1990 and its last Rose Bowl in 1988, but they remember the losses to Central.

Losses like that are not supposed to happen.

Big Ten teams are not supposed to lose to their MAC cousins.

Worse yet, Big Ten teams from Michigan are not supposed to lose to their directional cousins.

There is no doubt that MSU fans would rather not think about those two losses, but the program has done its part to move on.

Since the second Central loss, Michigan State has won 12 straight games against members of of the MAC, winning their last 10 games by an average score of 40-12.

Back to the Eastern game on the docket for tomorrow, Michigan State is 6-0 against the Eagles (or Hurons) including a 56-7 win the last time the two teams met in 2002 at Spartan Stadium.

As a 25+ point favorite on Saturday, Spartan fans are hoping they see a repeat of 2002, not 1992.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The smallest BMOC

When Sports Illustrated came out with its College Football Preview Edition, it listed the Big Men on Campus (or BMOC) for each of the Division 1A football programs in the nation.

If you guessed senior quarterback Drew Stanton was listed as the MSU BMOC, you'd be right.

However, as this season unfolds, Stanton might get a run for his money from 5-foot-eight, 151-pound freshman kicker Brett Swenson.

What did Swenson do to earn such high praise? He made a 35-yard field goal and a 23-yard field goal.

Alright, it doesn't sound like much. Let me put it this way. After last Saturday's 27-17 win over Idaho, Swenson needs only four more successful kicks to surpass last years team total of five field goals.

For all the blame that has gone around for the Spartans 2005 collapse, much of the blame can and should be placed at the feet (literally) of the MSU kickers. Last year's kickers went 5-for-16 on the year. That's right, 5-for-16!

With that kind of performance, the team and the coaching staff had such little faith in its kicking game that field goals were not an option at the end of the season and the red-zone pressure mounted on Stanton.

The 2005 kickers did not even attempt a field goal until the third game of the season against Notre Dame and John Goss' season long was 32-yards - Swenson surpassed that in his first try.

So as you heard a collective sigh of relief from Spartan Stadium last Saturday, it was because the little kicker from Florida was growing into a big man on campus - even if it was after just a 35-yard field goal.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Team knows more was expected against Vandals

A win is a win, but sometimes just winning isn't good enough

Despite racking up 400 yards, going 4-4 in the red zone, blocking a field goal and picking off a pass in their opening game 27-17 win over Idaho, many Spartans know they have work to do if this is going to be a successful season.

Just read what senior defensive tackle Clifton Ryan had to say after the game:
- On the victory overall: “I’m very concerned. We win by 10? They play in a decent conference in the WAC (Western Athletic Conference), but we play in a premier conference in the country. We should have made a better statement. We have a lot of work to do. We’ve got to get this train on the right road. If not, it’s going to be a long season.”
- On MSU's run defense: We’ve got to get tougher up front. We’ve got to do a better job of playing on their side of the line of scrimmage. They got too many rushing yards on us (113). In our conference, you’re facing backs like (Michigan’s) Michael Hart, the guy at Northwestern, Tyrell Sutton. We’ve got those guys on our schedule. I’m giving credit to Idaho’s backs, but they’re nowhere near those guys’ caliber (in the Big Ten). We’ve got to do a whole lot better job of stopping the run"

Senior quarterback Drew Stanton:
- On the offense helping the defense: Offensively we need to work on our drives. We can't go three-and-out, especially against an offense that is going to control the ball like that. We need to help our defense and keep their offense off the field."

Senior linebacker David Herron, Jr. who had an interception in the game:
- On the run defense: "We just need to stop the run better, and we need to take it upon ourselves to improve on that. That wasn't our best showing, we can be better than what we showed today. We have to give Idaho credit though - they ran the ball hard."

Coach John L. Smith was a little more positive in his comments, but sees the same problems:
- On MSU's run defense: "They ran the ball on us more than I would have liked to see. We have to work on that."
- On the offense: "I would have liked to see us work the ball a little better. I think our offensive staff is going to take a look at this and learn a lot from it."

We thought next weeks game against Eastern Michigan was an afterthought, but the Spartans need to show something more.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

MSU 27, Idaho 17

Michigan State got itself an opening game win, defeating the Idaho Vandals 27-17, but it was neither easy nor pretty for the Spartans.

Idaho dominated the time of possession behind the running of Jayson Bird, who led the Vandals with 89 yards on the ground. Idaho as a team gained 113 on the ground and 268 total, compared to MSU's 175 rushing and 400 total.

At first blush, it was not the kind of performance Spartan fans were looking for to start the season. MSU, 29-point favorite and home of one of the most explosive offenses in the country, should have dominated a team that went 2-9 last year with one of the worst defenses in the country.

But last year, Idaho didn't have Bird in the backfield or Dennis Erickson coaching on the sidelines.

Idaho simply did what they - and all underdogs for that matter - needed to do: run the ball and run to clock to keep Drew Stanton and Co. off the field.

They did exactly that, holding the ball for nearly five more minutes than the Spartans.

With that stat in mind, there is work to be done, particularly stopping the run. After all, Bird is not Mike Hart, Darius Walker or Antonio Pittman and their offensive line is not Michigan's, Notre Dame's or Ohio State's.

The defensive line and linebackers need to wrap people up in the backfield and not let them slip through the line, as Bird did on his touchdown.

On a positive note, the offense gained 400 yards during the limited time they were on the field and showed just how many weapons it has with six players catching at least one pass in the game. Stanton was fairly efficient going 16-25 for 225 yards and a touchdown and MSU scored each of the four times it was in the red zone.

Also, the secondary looks to be a improved over last year. Sophomore safety Otis Wiley made his presence felt by breaking up a number of passes thrown his way.

For MSU fans, watching the game with such high expectations was worse than the stats would indicate - but the team needs to show more next week against Eastern Michigan.

- Stanton: Efficient as usual with no turnovers and accounting for two TDs
- Secondary: Gave up some yards, but broke up some passes and did not give up any big plays
- Kicking game: Swenson was 2-3 on field goals and Fields bombed three punts for a 55.7 yard average
- Pass blocking: Stanton had plenty of time to see the field and make plays

- Run defense: Allowed Idaho to run the ball to run the clock and keep the offense off the field
- Only 4-11 on third downs

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Why wait to see the games? Here is how they finish...

Alright ladies and gentlemen, we are all geared up for the start of the season, but there is no need to wait until November 18 to see how the Big Ten will shake out.. Here's the order of finish.

1 - Ohio State - 11-1 (8-0)
2 - Iowa - 11 -1 (7-1)
3 - Penn State - 9-3 (6-2)
Michigan - 9-3 (6-2)
5 - Wisconsin - 9-3 (5-3)
6 - Michigan State - 8-4 (5-3)
7 - Purdue - 6-7 (4-4)
8 - Minnesota - 5-7 (2-6)
9 - Northwestern - 4-8 (1-7)
Illinois -4-8 (1-7)
Indiana - 4-8 (1-7)

Let's all check back to see how right I am...

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Ringer the returner

When Spartan fans heard the news that sophomore running back Javon Ringer was going to be returning kicks this year, they immediately flashed back to the 2003 Alamo Bowl in which a certain quarter back went down after being hit on a special teams play.

Sure, it will be argued that Stanton was not hit during the play, rather because of a cheap-shot after the whistle blew, but that is beside the point.

The point is - is it worth the risk to have a star returning kicks with the entire opposition bearing down on him.

Ringer is going to be the featured back in 2006, sharing time with junior Jehuu Caulcrick and redshirt freshman A.J. Jimmerson. He earned the starting spot after leading the team in rushing last season on 6.7 yards per carry and coming in second on the team in total offense behind only Drew Stanton.

Fans who have cringed at the idea of Ringer playing returner should remember that people like - Charles Rogers, Derrick Mason, Courtney Hawkins, Gari Scott and DeAndra Cobb all spent time returning kicks and punts. (Scott is the all-time kick return yardage leader while Mason tops the list for punt return yards.)

That said, what John L. is doing with Ringer is not anything like having Stanton serve as a gunner in the 2003 Alamo Bowl. What he is doing is to put his best player out there to put his team in the best position to win.

That said, I'm going to keep holding my breath during every punt and kick that Ringer is returning.

No Bowls? No problem for ticket sales

It was announced ealier this week from the MSU ticket office that over 60,000 sets of season tickets have been purchased for the upcoming season.

The 61,227 season sets sold is the second most all-time, coming up just short of the all-time record of 61,479 set for the 2000 campaign.

So let's get this straight after two straight losing, bowl-less seasons, after all the complaining and calling for John L. Smith's head, the Spartan faithfull dug deep into their pockets and bucked up for a near record amount of season tickets sold.

Is anyone getting this?

Setting the record after the 1999 season made sense. The program had shown some promise. Sure, Nick Saban left for the Bayou, but MSU was coming off its best season in years (10-2) and a victory over Florida in the Citrus Bowl.

So why so many tickets sold after going a combined 10-13 over the past two seasons and experts predicting no better than a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten season this year?

Is it simply to see Drew Stanton lead what is sure to be one of the top offenses in the country? Or is there legitimate hope among Spartan fans that the experts have somehow overlooked this team and it'll be the surprise of the conference as Penn State was a year ago? I can't explain it, but I am hoping the real reason is the latter.

One thing Spartan fans can say is that they are loyal, possibly to a fault (Detroit Lions anyone?). MSU has been ranked in the top 20 nationally in attendance in each of the past 50 years, despite having most of their success during the early part of that span.

The fans are paying good money to see luxury suites built and other renovations to the stadium, let's hope the team pays them back on the field this season.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

New Season... New Blog

Alright Spartan Football fans - we've got less than a week before the 2006 campaign begins, so I thought I might give you my perspective on things as the season unfolds.

As we all know, last season started off strong. They bulldozed their way 4-0 start to the season, they prompted the spread of "Stanton for Heisman" t-shirts around campus and they continued the annual tradition of defeating of Notre Dame.

Then? Collapse!

An OT loss to Michigan for the second year in a row, a loss at Ohio State despite outplaying the Buckeyes for the first half before the kicking gaffe.

This year?

The offense should remain one of the most potent in the country but the defense still reamains a major question mark. Can the JUCO transfers like Nehemiah Warrick make a difference in the secondary.

Only 6 days to find out... stay tuned...