Captains this week are Robert Gallery, Ramon Ochoa, Fred Russell and Jared Clauss.
Injury wise, Ed Hinkel looks like he will be out for this ball game. It would be miraculous if he could make it back. David Walker is in the same situation. He got hit last Wednesday in practice and I don't think he will be back this week as well.
We are hoping that Champ Davis can go full speed today. We have not seen him do that yet, so we are hopeful that this will be the week. There is an outside chance that we could see Bob Sanders, too. He started aggressively rehabbing last week, and we will take that one day by day.
We want to congratulate Chad Greenway for his (Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week) award. We have had a lot of guys garner those awards this year and that is always nice and we are happy see one of our players get recognized as he has been playing very, very well.
To recap Saturday night, what a great environment it was in Kinnick. I thought our crowd was fantastic. There was an electric feel in there from the pre-game right on through to the end. It was a great night and I was pleased with the effort that our football team put out there and to get a win against a fine team. It's good to get that game behind us now and we are anxious to start Big Ten play like everyone else in the conference. We have eight very challenging games ahead of us right now and it is a tough schedule. We knew that a long time ago. The work begins this week.
Traveling to East Lansing is going to provide a challenge right from the get go. They are a much improved football team. As is typical of a Michigan State football team, they are very talented. They have gifted players at a lot of positions, good players at a lot of positions and their record is evidence of that. They are coming off of a big win. The biggest difference we have seen is that they are much more disciplined than they have been in the past. They have had troubles with penalties, turnovers and those types of things in the last few years, but they have really addressed that. They are playing together and they are playing hard. I think I heard that they had something like 17 sacks, and they are leading the Big Ten. They have nine picks and they are giving up 40 yards per game on the ground. It is pretty impressive when you look at that tape.
The bulk of their offensive starters are back, including on the line. Smoker is back for his eighth year or something like that. I think he played with George Webster, it seems like. He can throw the ball, is very decisive and has a quick release. He is a really good player. They found a good running back (Hayes). This guy reminds us of Fred Russell. They have a big play guy at receiver (Shabaj); he is fast, dynamic, fast and energetic. I am not ready to say that he is a Tim Dwight-type of guy, but he is a Tim Dwight type of guy. I am not ready to put him in that caliber yet, as that is pretty lofty, but that is how he plays for them. He gives them a lot of energy and makes the big play. They have a lot of other receivers that are good, but this guy is the catalyst of their receiving corps.
Their special teams play is impressive. They have good specialists. Their punter has to be leading the league, averaging something like 47-yards a punt. More impressive are their core special teams players. They are hustling and doing a good job and they present problems for us in all phases. If you look at them offensively, defensively and on special teams, that is the reason they are 3-1 right now. We are heading on the road for the first road game in conference play and it will be a great challenge and we will need to have a great week of practice to get ready for Saturday
On Michigan State's defense
They are a little bit like us. It's mostly a four-man rush; they are not a big pressure team. But the guys up front are really talented. Both of their end are doing a great job and their inside guys are doing a good job. But their outside guys present a tough match up for our tackles.
On the Spartans under first year coach John L. Smith and if his offense will resember that of Arizona State or Purdue
ASU was more multiple personnel, they would give us some two-back and what have you. These guys, for the most part, will put one back out there and three wide receivers. That is how Purdue used to be, but the last two years they have tried to get the running game going, breaking in the new quarterback, but my guess is that they are leaning back to more of the spread offense and one back stuff.
These guys (MSU) are predominantly three wide and one back, sometimes they will go four wide. I know that he (Smith) said at the luncheon that they were going to pass, pass, pass, but they balance it out a lot. They had some nice rushing production last week and I am sure they are going to mix that in.
The impact of John L. Smith and his staff, I am not sure what was going on up there and the end of the season, because we lost sight of them after we played them, but anytime there is a coaching change is made during the season, that is always sticky and uncomfortable. I am sure there were a lot of loose edges when they got in there. But he went in there with the majority of the guys that he had at Louisville and they inherited a talented and gifted team. I think this year's team would prove that to be true. To me, they have brought in a system and a manner of doing things to Michigan State and that has probably helped them a little bit. It is what he did at Louisville and Utah State. I coached a guy that played for him at Idaho and he had nothing but great things to say about him, and that was back eight years ago.
John L. Smith has done a very good job as a coach and his impact and the impact of their staff is being shown up there.
Q: Why is the defense playing so well?
Because we asked them to. And said ‘please'. I learned that a long time ago that you have to say please. (laughs)
We are learning, growing and maturing. The process began last year. It was a little bit rocky there early in the season, there were some storms and we began to grow last year in the Big Ten and we continue to improve. That is the biggest thing; our guys have a good attitude and they practice extremely well. The veteran players that are back from last year are playing better, which is what you hope happens with anybody, and I think the five newcomers that are starting are playing at a real high level. With the exception of Jovon, those guys have been around it. I guess you have to throw Chris Smith in there too, that makes six new guys. But those guys have been around it a little bit and they know what to do out there. Things are coming together well and we still are what we are, be it defensively or our entire football team, we really have to do things together and on the same page to have a chance.
I think that is what we saw Saturday night. Norm (Parker) talked all week that it was going to take a team effort to slow them down, not just one phase or one segment and that is what we saw the other night. Everybody complimented each other really well. If we can do that, we will have a chance to play good defense against anybody.
On the Offense and if he continues to see improvement
I think they are coming along. That is what we hoped for. As I said back in August, I felt this year would be the flip of last year. Saturday night was huge to me, as it was somewhat of an auspicious beginning. Those first three series were not real impressive and we were rocked a little bit. They came out ready to go, they have and they have a veteran group up front. The first three series on the sideline, I was curious to see where we were going to head after that. I had some questions at that point. And I think that was what I was most pleased with is that our guys responded in the proper fashion.
They kept working. The entire group kept playing, they did not get rattled and some good things happened for us in the second quarter right on through the game. I don't think we are as fragile as we were a year ago. If you compare things to where we were last year, there were still a lot of question marks about our football team at this time. I think we answered a lot of them at Penn State in week five, but there were a lot of questions. I don't know if we are as good as we were last year and we won't know that until the end of the season. Probably not, but at least I think we are more mentally mature than we were a year ago.
On who will be back on kick returns
That is a great question. We were talking about that all weekend. Do you want me to answer it? It will probably be Ramon back there and Calvin I guess. We are having a tryout this afternoon. If anyone wants to jump in there and help out, that would be great.
On Nathan Chandler fighting through early mistakes against ASU and coming back strong
It was a big step, no doubt about it. The shotgun…my favorite play right? The shotgun, that was an ugly play, so we had that and the interception which was really ugly, too. You always wonder how a guy will respond. You have to be like a relief pitcher in baseball or a corner in football: you have to flush plays down or else they come back and really cost you down the road. To his credit, that is what he did. He kept playing and he didn't get rattled. I think he did some great things. He had a couple of other shaky plays after that, but last year at this time, Brad was making some bad decisions too, I don't want to forget that. We have not lost sight of that. You hope that you continue to see improvement and we are seeing that. He is doing some great things for us out there.
On whether or not Calvin Davis is ready to start
I think he is. Saturday night was major for him because he got his hands on the ball and made some plays. He made some VERY nice plays. He would be the first to tell you that he was not the most confident guy out there, and that is natural, as he has not played a lot. He missed some significant time by not playing as a junior in high school and he missed some significant practice time here. Last spring he did not practice that much.
But I thought his play on Saturday was fantastic. We were all glad on the sidelines to see him make some nice plays. I think now this will open things up for him and give him the confidence he needs to play successfully.
On if the same could be said of Townsend
We think so. If you had asked me four weeks ago if he had a chance to play this year, I would have said absolutely not. He was really struggling, dropping balls, struggling with the adjustment of being away from home, the adjustment from high school to college, the things that not all freshmen go through, but a lot of them do. Things that we forget about as adults. He had a lot of things on his plate, but the last couple of weeks he started to settled down and began practicing again the way that we think he is capable and making some good plays and doing some good things. It was good to see him get involved and I think that first down catch that he made on our sidelines was a good play and that should give him confidence as well.
On if any more reshirts will come off this year
I think it's possible, probably not, but it's possible. We will have to wait and see how things go.
On if that includes Albert Young
I forgot to mention Albert's situation. He's starting to phase back in. Right now, he is not confident enough to play right now. That is the first stage, to get him where he can perform the way he was before he was injured and the second step would be to see if we are going to go with him or not. That depends on how late it is into the season; we will keep treading water on that for another week or two and see what happens.
On if they will find more places for McCollom to play
We have to, we took it (the redshirt) off for a reason. He got his feet wet the other night, although he really wasn't involved in the offense. But now that we have decided to go down that path, we definitely will try to phase him into things and get him involved more each and every week. To me it was a long-term decision. We didn't expect him to set the world on fire Saturday night, but at that point we had nine games in front of us and we were really getting depleted from a playmaker standpoint, so in my mind we needed to do something to bolster our attack and work proactively so that is our plan.
On whether or not Jeff Smoker looks different this year over last, considering his off the field issues in 2002
I would imagine he was distracted last year. I don't want to speak for him. It is a tough situation. To me it's a credit to the young man with what he has done already, and a credit to the coaching staff and the University. We have had some guys in that situation. Zeron Flemister. The University decided to give him a chance and it was a great decision as Zeron is a tremendous young man and I think his life is truly changed now. To me that is a part of the educational process. I don't live there and I don't know him first hand, but from what I am seeing, this guy is doing a great job and I imagine they made things pretty stringent for him and he had to pay a price to come back and that is the way that it ought to be. I am sure that he is thankful for the opportunity and it looks to me that he is making the most of it, and that is a great thing.
On the lawsuit being filed by Maurice Clarett against the NFL over that league's rule against younger players being eligible for the draft
I think it's terrible. I am no lawyer, but I would think it's a law or a rule that can be challenged. But when you look at how many guys are going to the NBA out of high school, that is alarming to me. It's a real concern to me as a parent and as a coach, but more so as a parent. To me, it is a whole different lifestyle in the professional leagues. I have always wondered how minor league baseball players made the transition or those hockey leagues up in Canada. You have a kid who is 18 or 19 riding around on a bus in baseball with guys that are 27 or 28 years old. That is a whole different world from a financial standpoint. 22 year olds have a hard time managing big money, so I don't know how an 18-year old is going to do it. There are a lot of real question marks about it and the most obvious concern is that playing in the National Football League is really challenging. Maybe a skill guy can do it but for the most part, I think that it's probably a bad route to take. Statistics show that NFL players with college degrees earn more money and play longer in the league. I think there is a reason for that.
Tamarick Vanover is a good example of that, the kid from Florida State. We did some research on that when I was at Cleveland. After a year or two of kicking around the NFL he was in Canada. He was very talented, but didn't have the foundation built. It is unfortunate, but it is a sign of the times and a lot of things going on in these times are not for the best of the individuals involved.