MSU run game to be tested by Tough Cal "D"

Cal sports a deep and talented set of linebackers in their 3-4 defensive set, but the Spartans bring tested O-lineman to a front five looking to flatten some Bears.

Michigan State's running attack, led by senior Javon Ringer, will face a tough test in the season opener against the California Golden Bears.

The new-look 3-4 defensive set of the Bears can be intimidating in and of itself, but the quality of the players in that defense will make it all the more difficult for MSU to establish a run game.

Cal sports two early Butkus Award candidates in senior linebackers Zack Follett and Worrell Williams. In addition, senior outside linebacker Tony Felder has stepped up his game and is drawing praise from the California coaching staff.

"Tony Felder is playing the best he's ever played since he's been here," said defensive coordinator Bob Gregory.

In addition, freshman Mychal Kendricks has impressed the coaching staff so much that Gregory said he had to abandon his initial plan to red-shirt the Fresno, Cal., native. Kendricks will be in the playing group but will give way to junior Eddie Young who will start at the other linebacker position.

Still, Cal says they are wary of a Michigan State team that is quickly building a reputation as a team that wants to play smashmouth football.

"They're a physical, athletic team," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said about the Spartans. Tedford pointed to the talent of Ringer and quarterback Brian Hoyer's experience, but toughness is what he says sets MSU apart. "(They're) very physical up front," he said, "they're going to make you stop the run. It's power football."

Tedford elaborated on the way Cal feels about the running of Ringer, who's also a senior captain.

"He's a guy who has great balance, vision, he's tough. He'll run between the tackles and you better make sure you rack him up or he can bounce out of there and make some great plays. He's an elusive guy. It's going to take gang tackling, it's hard to bring him down with just one guy."

Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio expressed confidence in his offensive line's ability to open holes and play well overall.

"We return three starters (in the offensive line), and we return two other guys that have played in the past. (Rocco) Cironi played as a red- shirt freshman quite a lot and then Bacon was in and out (of the lineup) last year a lot, so we have some experience there. But that's an area that we're going to have to grow and develop over the course of the season," he said.

"We weren't real deep there last year, but somehow, we managed to find pieces and move people around. I think Brendon Moss is going to have to be a guy that plays, I think Joel Foreman is going to be a guy that plays. You'll see him playing on Saturday, as well, and that's for sure. And he's another-red shirt freshman, so it'll be an exciting day for him," Dantonio said.

"These guys are all going to grow up, and they're all going to be great players. Jared McGaha is going to be a great player for us. He's a red-shirt freshman backing up a right guard," said Dantonio.

GAMEPLAN: In the 3-4 scheme, MSU's guards, led by seniors Roland Martin and Mike Bacon, will often be uncovered, so it's imperative that they move into the second level and get after the active California inside linebackers.

A key to this run game will be how successful Martin and Bacon are in negating the disruptive play of Worrell Williams and Tony Felder in the interior.

In addition, newly named starter Charlie Gantt will have to be a sixth blocker in the offensive front when the Spartans need to run — while also getting away from a linebacker with solid cover skills in Follett.

Michigan State may look to set up the run by throwing the ball against a talented, but young Cal secondary.

More on that tomorrow.

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