How does the Michigan State coaching staff view the Cal defense?
The MSU coaching staff seems very impressed with the linebacking corps of Cal. They have recognized that changing to a 3-4 scheme will allow the Golden Bears to have their best defensive unit on the field. Quarterback Brian Hoyer has talked a lot about both Zach Follett and Worrell Williams as guys who have really impressed him during film sessions. Along the defensive line, the coaches have mentioned Tyson Alualu as someone who causes havoc stopping the run and putting pressure on the QB. The secondary returns some guys with some starting and/or playing experience so they have said that their receivers will have their hands full on Saturday night.
What is the Big Ten's perception of Pac-10 defenses in general? As far as the Big Ten's perception of Pac-10 defenses in general, the thing that stands out is speed. Seeing the Big Ten champion go up against the USC defense year-after-year in the Rose Bowl can be overwhelming. However, some people in Big Ten country (mostly uninformed fans) do see the Pac Ten as a little soft. They catch the highlights and see all these points being scored and instantly the thought is "that conference plays no defense." Fortunately, coaches and teams in the Big Ten conference do not see it that way.
Coach Mark Dantonio is very aggressive on the defensive side of the ball; will the offense take on that same mentality this season?
Early in the upcoming season, you will see Michigan State be aggressive running the football. They return All-American candidate Javon Ringer, who was named second team All-Big Ten after rushing for 1,447 yards last season while splitting carries with the now-departed Jehuu Caulcrick. Last year, after Devin Thomas emerged as the go-to wide receiver, Dantonio opened up the offense and I expect him to follow the same pattern this season. Once the Spartans can find that go-to guy, who I expect to be sophomore Mark Dell or redshirt freshman B.J. Cunningham, they will open up the passing game. However, in terms of Saturday's game at Cal, I expect safe passes from Hoyer and the aggressive part of the offense will be run through Ringer.
Does Coach Dantonio feel that there is another threat on the offensive side of the ball that can help take the pressure off Javon Ringer?
There is no doubting the heavy workload Javon Ringer will get this season, but there are plenty of playmakers around him. Having senior quarterback Brian Hoyer there to keep the defenses honest will be a huge benefit for Ringer. Hoyer does a good job of play action and finding the open guy. He's got a good arm and is very accurate. In addition to Dell and Cunningham, tight end Charlie Gantt has emerged in the spring and so far in the fall as someone who could be a factor in the passing game. In the backfield, the No. 2 running back position is being contested by three backs; redshirt freshman Andre Anderson, junior A.J. Jimmerson and redshirt freshman Ashton Leggett. All three bring something different to the table in term of what they can bring to the game. Anderson is a shorter, stronger back who reminds a lot of people of a younger Ringer. Jimmerson is more of a receiver out of the backfield and Leggett is the biggest of the three who might get the goal line carries now that Caulcrick is gone. All could potentially see the field on Saturday.
Does Michigan State feel that they have a replacement for Jehuu Caulcrick's 21 touchdowns, short yardage and goal line production or will Ringer just take on a bigger load?
As I mentioned earlier, Ashton Leggett is a bigger back who could take some of the goal line carries, but the job is probably Ringer's to give up. Often overlooked is just how powerful he is. At 5-foot-9, 202-pounds, Ringer is more than capable of moving a pile or leaping over the top. There has also been some talk of giving fullback Andrew Hawken some opportunities in short yardage situations.
How is Cal Program viewed in that part of the county?
In the Midwest, the Pac-10 is seen a lot like the Big Ten: a big one and then the rest. Here, it's Ohio State and then everybody else. There, it's USC and everybody else. The Cal program is seen on that second tier of Pac Ten schools. They were ranked as high as No. 2 in the country last year and always have great offensive skill players, but whether it is injuries or a defense not up-to-par, they can't quite get over that last hurdle. And of course, whenever somebody mentions Cal football, people around here instantly think of "the band is out on the field" game. Thankfully for the Cal program, that's a good thing.