5 Questions with MSU

Hawkeye Insider caught up with Spartan Digest Publisher Mike Wilson this week to ask him for insight on Michigan State, this week's Homecoming opponent for the Hawkeyes. Mike was kind enough to answer five questions on the team he knows most about.

1. Hawkeye Insider: The Spartan defense has been pretty impenetrable this season. If you were the opposing offensive coordinator, what's the ideal way to attack it provided you have the means?

Mike Wilson: In all honesty, there isn't a real weak spot on the defense to attack. It's a well-coached and talented unit.

Given the means Iowa has in size up front and a big back in Mark Weisman, Iowa's best attack will be to continue its solid work up front. I expect the Hawkeyes to do a good job of getting some blocks into the second level and have a little more success than the previous opponents have had running the ball. I also think Jake Rudock moving around can give MSU a little bit of trouble. Mobile quarterbacks who also can make plays downfield have had some success in recent years.

MSU relies on its corners on an island, which is a good place to attack, but they are still very talented. You could take the Notre Dame approach and just toss the ball down the sidelines and hope for pass interference (I kid.)

2. HI: Conversely, MSU's offense still is finding its way. What changes do you expect to see, if any, personnel wise or schematically after the bye week to increase success?

MW: As far as the depth chart goes, the only real changes are a pair of wide receivers (Tony Lippett and Bennie Fowler) listed as co-starters, but that means little as MSU will rotate in six or seven wideouts.

What hurt MSU late against Notre Dame was going away from the run. To open the second half, the Spartans O-line was driving back the ND front seven easily and gaining big chunks. The result was a confusingly pass-happy fourth quarter.

MSU is just like Iowa in looking to get the run game going and build from it, so I expect MSU to look heavy on the run. I also would expect some more designed runs for Connor Cook this week as there were few in the play calling last week.

3. HI: The Spartans are 9-3 on the road in the Big Ten since the start of the 2010 season. Why do you think they have performed well on the road and do you sense that it gives them confidence coming into this game?

MW: I think that success started defensively. When a defense comes in and shuts down an offense to open the game, it makes the crowd less of a factor in noise level and impact.

Interestingly enough, MSU was 3-1 on the road in the Big Ten last season, but 0-4 at home. When it comes to this game, I think it has to be noted that the group is a lot different than the ones in 2010-11.

Many of the current players aren't too experienced in going on the road – looking at quarterbacks, running backs and tight ends, specifically. A win at Notre Dame for them would have gone a long way with confidence, but it remains to be seen how they respond to a hostile environment.

4. HI: At what stage is Connor Cook in his development as a quarterback? Assuming he starts, how long is his leash?

MW: Cook is a bit of a baffling player to watch most of the time. He has a strong arm and he can run decently well, but he makes some throws that defy logic – in a bad way. His mechanics still are a work in progress and it centers on his footwork. He often forgets to set his feet and misses targets badly. Until he can get a grasp on that, he will remain an up-and-down quarterback.

As for his leash, I think it is long unless he is turning the ball over. MSU has made it clear he is the No. 1 and want him to be the guy taking all the snaps, despite inserting Andrew Maxwell for the final drive in South Bend.

5. HI: What does MSU need to do to get out of Iowa City with an important Big Ten road victory?

MW: Simply put, get big plays. MSU is the only team in the nation without a play of more than 40 yards this season. If they want to find success in the Big Ten, generating chunks of yards on each play will be the key. "Explosive plays" has been a buzzword this season – and last season.

Looking at the defense, staying fresh was an issue last year as Weisman had room to run late in the game. Good rotation and the offense sustaining drives will go a long way to help the defense keep the team in a position to win.

It all will boil down to Cook to me, though. If he can make good decisions and set his feet and throw accurately, MSU has good shot to do good things. If he struggles, it could be a long day for the Spartans.

NOTE: You can read our exchange where HI answered 5 questions for Spartan Digest HERE.

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