Michigan State: The Offense

Quick, what is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about a Big Ten football game? Three yards and a cloud of dust, right? Now, quick what is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about Big Ten football game between Michigan State and Illinois? A pillow fight, or ‘I think I'll pass' probably. Unfortunately, I have a masochistic side, so I will enjoy watching the Illini travel up to East Lansing on Saturday morning / afternoon.

Michigan State is coming off a 38-16 loss to Iowa in Iowa City last Saturday afternoon. If there is one thing good that came form this game for the Spartans it was that Drew Stanton looked crisp, his receivers just could not catch the football. After going through three different quarterbacks in as many games to start the season, John L. Smith has zeroed in on Stanton as his quarterback for the rest of the season.

Stanton is already the leading passer for the Spartans with 536 yards. He is also the team's leading rusher with 315 yards on just 37 carries. Stanton being the leading rusher is not a good thing in a spread offense, so that may be of some benefit to the Illini. Then again, the Illini have trouble defending against teams with mobile quarterbacks, so maybe Stanton leading the Spartans on the ground is not a good thing.

Outside of Stanton on the ground, the Spartans rely on both Jason Teague and Jehuu Caulcrick. When you add in the contributions from Teague and Caulcrick to the rushing ability of Stanton, the Spartans have the second best ground attack in the Big Ten with 182.6 yards per game. With the anemic passing offense compared to their rushing attack, many were wondering if John L. Smith would install a much more conservative offense were quickly rebuffed by the Spartan head coach who responded with "And line up against the people we're lining up against?" Smith said. "It might be suicide. We're not at that point, no. Maybe someday we'd like to be at that point. You don't want to get into a phone booth with some of those guys because, to be honest with you, we're going to come out bloody."

The flux at quarterback has left the Spartan wide receiver corps adjusting to a new quarterback three times this season. The adjustment period should have been completed by the Iowa game last weekend, but the Spartan receivers were still dropping too many passes for theirs and their coach's liking. The Michigan State offense was stalled quite a bit last Saturday against the Hawkeyes due to their eight dropped passes. Four of those drops were in the end zone.

The lone bright spot at wide receiver for the Spartans has been Proviso East product and red shirt freshman Terry Love. Against Iowa Love caught nine passes for a total of 103 yards. When Smith was asked if any more young help was coming to the struggling wide receiver position, he said simply "No, you don't want to jerk a red shirt or something like that."

The biggest name and biggest body in the Michigan State receiving group is a name that should not be foreign to Illinois basketball fans, Matt Trannon. Trannon pulls double duty as he suits up for both the Spartan football and basketball teams, and he has the unique ability to hurt Illinois in both sports. At 6-6 he is a definite match up issue for any Illinois corner back, and when you combine that with his athletic ability he becomes a very tough receiver to stop in single coverage, especially down near the end zone where his height advantages are magnified.

The other receivers that will be getting the ball in the Spartan spread offense are Kyle Brown, Jerramy Scott, and Eric Knott. The only Michigan State receivers to corral in touchdown passes this season are Trannon, Brown, and Knott as they each have one reception that led to a score. Wide receiver Agim Shabaj will be returning to action on Saturday against Illinois after missing last weekend's game against the Hawkeyes with the flu and a nagging ankle injury, so he will be another player the Illini defensive backfield will have to worry about.

A look at the Spartan Defense will be up tomorrow.

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