Mike: I think it's part both, but more the way the defense plays. The numbers might be slightly boosted because of the schedule, but it definitely is a tough defense. It's a group that has five players in their third or fourth year starting and all really understand the way the defensive scheme works.
It's a trademark in recent years for MSU to be stout against the run and that is no different right now. The 11 defenders all swarm the ball and close quickly. The pass defense also is very strong, but that is where MSU might be more susceptible to giving up some big plays as the cornerbacks are often in one-on-one man coverage.
Well, Indiana came out on the first drive and hit a 64-yard touchdown run, but MSU only allowed 28 yards rushing on the other 26 attempts. Two other scores came on short fields off turnovers, with one being a muffed punt at the MSU 41 and the other interception at the MSU 37.
As I kind of noted in the previous question, going downfield can lead to a little success, but the corners are fast and physical. I think where MSU can struggle is with counters, throwbacks and screens. It's such an aggressive defense and finding ways to use the aggressiveness against itself is a way teams have done some good things in previous years.
What's your take on the offense? Illinois has been terrible against the run. Does that fit what the Spartans will try to do?
Michigan State would probably run the ball every play if they could. Junior Jeremy Langford is coming off back-to-back 100-yard games for MSU and is playing very well. I would expect MSU to build the run and go to play action as they find some good movement as the offensive line has been playing pretty well this season and winning at the point of attack.
Getting Connor Cook going is imperative, though. He had two good games against Iowa and Indiana, but struggled last week against Purdue. As he goes, this team will go. The rest of the offense is playing pretty well and has been improving game by game. It is by no means an explosive offense, but with the defense MSU puts on the field, it just needs to take care of the ball and put up three or four touchdowns in most games.
Fill in the blank: Michigan State will win if ___________. Michigan State will lose if ______________.
Michigan State will win if Cook plays like he did at Iowa and against Indiana and hits open receivers. Michigan State will lose if they turn the ball over and the offense comes out flat like it did against Purdue.
The talk around the MSU program has been how will some of these younger players, who haven't felt success yet, handle winning. Last week, it looked like they got lazy and complacent and, as a result, struggled with a Purdue team that isn't very good right now. I expect MSU to come out wanting to wash that taste out of their mouths and win this one 31-13.