GSN correctly predicted many of the promising and problem areas for the MSU football team. This week, we take a quick look back at Idaho, and finish with a look ahead to the Eastern Michigan Eagles, this weeks opponent.
The Spartans struggled throughout the game to put Idaho away, and held on to win 27-17. GSN correctly predicted that the Spartan O-line, which struggled in the spring and fall, would struggle with an undersized and quicker Vandal defensive front. In fact, that very thing happened as the Vandals made quarterback Drew Stanton scramble and beat them with his legs.
THE GOOD: The secondary play has improved, led by Otis Wiley and Nehemiah Warrick. Demond Williams struggled some, but overall it was a better performance. Before we get carried away, consider the fact that MSU also had early success last year against Hawaii, another pass happy team.
The jury is still out, especially since Kendall-Davis Clark, substituting for the injured Ross Weaver as the nickle back, got burnt deep once, and received a pass interference flag. Idaho didn't test MSU often enough deep to declare that part of the defense cured.
GSN mentioned that Special Teams would be improved in the kicking phase, and that seems to be the case. Brandon Fields boomed three punts for a 55.7 yard average.
Brett Swenson hit on two of three field goals, making from 35 and 23-yards, and missing frm 51-yards. Todd Boleski did a decent job handling kickoff duties. The concern through fall camp and after the first game continues to be kick coverage.
Give the Spartans credit for playing a mistake free game from a turnover perspective. They also had only two penalties. They were also able to control the ball at the end of the game and finish a game. Something that has been missing in recent memory.
POINTS TO BE IMPROVED:
The lack of physical play has to concern the players and coaches. Nehemiah Warrick was said to be the catalyst for a more physical MSU football team. However, Idaho controlled both lines of scrimmage. Vandal running back Jayson Bird was breaking tackles at the point of attack, and the Vandal defensive line bottled up the Spartans rush attack, and kept Drew Stanton on the move. MSU's offensive line really struggled.
Although the statistic's show that MSU was adequate in the red zone, there was some questionable decisions, and play calling that lead to Stanton having to bail the Spartans out with his feet. Idaho was not fooled by Javon Ringer up the middle. Perhaps offensive cordinator Dave Baldwin is saving his best plays for better opponents.
Four out of four in the red zone, with two touchdowns against a Michigan or Ohio State would probably be acceptable. Against a Vandal team that gave up 38 points a game last year, and struggled in fall camp, will leave questions.
The experience that quarterback Brian Hoyer, and other young Spartans were supposed to receive will have to wait a week because of a game that turned out to be closer than expected.
Matt Trannon needs to hang onto the ball, and the tight ends need to be more involved in the passing game. Perhaps Coach Baldwin is again not showing too much early in the season.
AJ Jimmerson not playing this week is going to be a good thing. John L. Smith likes to keep backs fresh, not only in the game being played, but from week to week. Two years ago some thought Jason Teague had disappeared off the depth chart before coming back with a big game against Michigan.
Expect Jimmerson to get a bunch of carries this week, and Ringer to have a lighter load so he can rest for Pitt and Notre Dame, or Ringer to continue to get his carries, thus giving the Spartans a fresh Jimmerson for Pitt and Notre Dame. However, be sure the wheels are turning in John L. Smith's head regarding the ball carriers.
SCOUTING THE EASTERN MICHIGAN EAGLES:
Eastern Michigan is lead by head coach Jeff Genyk, who is now in his third year after completing the first two seasons with a overall record of 8-15. Genyk came from Northwestern, where he was previously the running back coach and recruiting cordinator, and is considered one of the fine young coaches in the game.
This is a solid coaching staff which features two other former Northwestern assistant coaches in cordinator positions. Offensive cordinator Howard Leggins was the wide receiver for the Wildcats, and defensive cordinator Jay Peterson coached the defensive line and linebackers for Northwestern.
These coaches have the Eagles heading solidly in the right direction. Last year they finished 4-7, but that easily could have been a 7-4 record. EMU had three tough, and hard to swallow losses in dropping games to Cincinnati by two points, a one-point loss to Miami (OH), and a one-point loss to Ball State in a game where they led 22-7 in the fourth quarter.
Another promising sign that the Eagles have turned things around was a victory on the road against Brian Kelly's CMU team last year. Clearly, this not the porous team MSU saw in 2002 that lead the NCAA in points allowed, and yardage given up. That Spartan team crushed EMU by the score of 56-7.
In fact, EMU gave up 14.8 points per game less in 2005 than they did in 2004, and also forced a plus ten in the turnover category, as opposed to minus nine in 2004. Giving up less points, and forcing turnovers is a sure sign the defense is improving.
Eastern opened this season with a tough 38-20 road loss to Ball State. EMU started fast, but Ball State outscored the Eagles 28-10 during the last forty minutes in taking advantage of good field position. Ball State changed momentum in that game with a double pass for a touchdown to take the wind out of the sails of the Eagles.
Offensively, Eastern runs the spread offense in a similar fashion to Northwestern and are led by quarterback Tyler Jones, who turned out to be the main offensive threat against Ball State. Jones accounted for 310 all-purpose yards. He rushed for 164-yards on 22 carries, and threw for 146-yards on 11 of 16 passing with one touchdown.
In fact, after Jones, the rest of the team ran sixteen times for just sixty-five yards. On the receiving end, 2nd Team All-MAC wide receiver Eric Deslauriers started this year with a bang with ten catches for 127-yards and one touchdown. Wide receiver Trumaine Riley added three catches, and tight end Ken Bohnet had two for 32-yards.
The offensive line for EMU welcomes back four starters, and eight of its top ten offensive linemen in the two deep depth chart. This is considered their best line in some time. In 2005, they rushed for 3.8 yards per carry, and gave up just 17 sacks. EMU rushed for 5.9 yards per carry in their opener against BSU and opened some good holes.
For MSU, they are well aware what a running quarterback can do in this spread attack having played Northwestern several times. Containing Jones, and making sure Deslauriers doesn't have a career day will be key. In keeping with the Idaho game, getting off the field and not letting the Eagles chew clock wil be important.
This Eagle offense can be be productive and balanced. Consider this, of their 22 first downs against Ball State, eleven came rushing, and ten came via the pass. (The other came via penalty).
Defensively as mentioned, they did chop off 14.8 points from points allowed in 2004. This year they have a veteran front seven back that allowed 4.7 yards per carry last year, and garnered 21 sacks.
Three of the defensive line starters are solid, including Colorado transfer Josh Hunt, defensive MVP Jason Jones, and 2nd Team All-MAC performer Kevin Howe, who had 10.5 sacks last year. Also, all three linebackers return, led by honorable mention All-MAC performer Michael Richardson.
Daniel Holtzclaw had eleven starts as a true freshman, while Darrin Matthews returns at the last spot. The front seven gave up 4.4 yards per carry to Ball State (159-yards), including a 31-yard touchdown run.
We should mention that Holtzclaw has been named to the Dick Butkus Award watch list as one of the premier linebackers in the country.
The secondary is the potential weakness for the Eagles, as they lost three of their four starters form a year ago. Last year, they gave up a respectable 18 touchdowns to eleven interceptions ratio for the year.
Against Ball State however, it was a different story, as BSU stung them for four touchdown passes without an interception, which is not a great start for EMU. BSU's Nate Davis himself caught seven passes for 108-yards, and three touchdowns. As a group, eight different Cardinal receivers caught passes against EMU. Overall, Ball State accumulated 230-yards in the air on seventeen completions.
A Special Team bright spot for EMU is placekicker/punter Andrew Wellock, who kicked two field goals against BSU of 20-yards, and 31-yards. Wellock has been the First Team All-Mac kicker in both 2004 and 2005. Last season he made 18 of 25 field goals and punted for a 38.3 yard average. He also has been a Lou Groza Award finalist.
Again, MSU will be a heavy favorite which could mean trouble. The question is, which team will show up, the one that promised to be more physical and focused this year, or the one that takes another opponent lightly?