Marcus Ray: “Speaking on the type of film that I watch, it is really the official game tape, it’s called the tight copy, where you watch it from the rearview and you can see the linemen and you focus on blocking schemes, different types of blitzes, seeing what type of breakdown you had on the defensive line, offensive line, seeing what linebackers missed the wrong gaps. Then you can watch the wide copy just to get a feel for the backend and just to see all of the routes. I actually watch film from both angles and I noticed early that Michigan State, number one, they give up a lot of big plays. You can formation them, just because of the way they play their defense. Let me paint this picture real nice and basic. Michigan State plays nine-man football. So they will take their two corner backs and they will press them and play man-to-man coverage. Essentially you’re taking the number one receivers out of the game. Which means they’re by themselves, no help under no circumstances. The rest of the guys play quarters coverage, which is just cover 4 and then two safeties, they sit heavy in their quarters. If something takes them vertical then that’s what causes them to come out of their quarters and just play the deep ball. Let’s say any number two receiver, like a slot on one side or a tight end on the other side, if he goes out, then the safeties take them. See, when you run that defense, it puts a lot of stress on your linebackers. Because, now they have to be able to count and when guys start moving around shifting and motioning or lets say run like out and ups and switch routes, now the count gets messed up. I don’t think Michigan State is as intelligent as they once were on defense in the pass game. Even though Drummond is back, they miss Isaiah Lewis. Bunch sets obviously disrupts your ability to bump-n-run and play man to man. Now you’ve got to think a little more. It’s not about how they line up, it’s how they wind up. That’s what’s going on with Michigan State. In the run game, their two inside linebackers, they do not fit the run well. They are all out of their gaps. They overrun plays. They get downhill and get caught up in the traffic. That is why you’re seeing teams like Indiana and Purdue hit home runs that they didn’t hit last year. Michigan State, they are giving them up religiously. When you watch when the ball breaks, they’ve got guys falling, taking poor angles. That’s not the same animal. The whole thing about exposing Michigan State is, you’ve got to be able to spread the field and make them, just like Oregon did, make them defend left, right, and middle. So, when you have a stacked set two by two or you have a bunched set, some type of trips and three by one, now those safeties have to start adjusting to the coverage and so when you make them defend your pass formation, it opens up the run game. But you have to be able to at least sell the fact that you can go vertical. They have given up some deep balls. You throw a couple of bubble screens and then you run the ball up the middle. But those linebackers get out of their gaps. They don’t count the third receiver, they miscount the fourth receiver, and they get all confused. The next thing you know, he gives up one gap 70-80 yard touchdown run.”
Sam Webb: It was clear, Marcus, watching that game last year… I sat next to an NFL scout in the box at Michigan State. It was amazingly enlightening, profound even, because at one point he said, ‘Man, what they do is just so unsound.’ You’re going to have opportunities for big plays so often because they are banking on their pressure getting there before you can take advantage. It was clear, he said at one point, ‘They’re trying to game Michigan State’s safeties.’ It was the very first series that he kind of reflected on. He was the first one to point it out. I remember talking about it in the box, Devin Funchess running down the field on the post.
Marcus Ray: “First play of the game.”
Sam Webb: But it was a big completion to Jeremy Gallon… play-action completion to Jeremy Gallon down the sideline. It was a good throw by Devin but it was like a 40 yard game when it could have been six. He said, ‘I heard you guys talking about that guy running down the middle of the field… that’s there all game. Their safeties are so run heavy and so unsound with their eyes that you can game their safeties.’ This was an exact quote. Michigan just couldn’t protect enough in order to do that. It gets back to the point that you’re talking about now, you can confuse their guys, not just linebackers but safeties too.
Marcus Ray: “You can trick them because they play with poor eye discipline. See last year Lewis brought a lot more enforcement when you talk about run heavy. Drummond just gets nosy. Lewis was looking to hit and make some things happen. But, Michigan State just has better players than the people that they’re playing right now. They play with this nasty chip on their shoulder where they bully everybody. They are the Big Ten bullies, let’s just be clear. Even a bully has a weak spot. He just doesn’t want you to see it or even if you know it, you can’t get to it. But the key to beating Michigan State or exposing their defense, you have to be able to run the ball just a little bit. Like if you can get some success running the ball four, five, or six yard here or your quarterback can keep it, now those safeties have to start to honor and help and get in those alleys and that is when they forget about, you know what, I have to read this guy for pass. That’s why number 26 gave up that pass against Oregon. All he had to do was look at the slot receiver. If he blocks, then that’s when you come in for the run. But that safety had his eyes in the backfield because he was so run conscious he forgot to read his run key. So, the slot receiver faked like he was going to block the linebacker and went right down the field and it was a touchdown. So, Michigan State, you have to be able to run the ball against them first or at least loosen them up. Then that is when you can trick their safeties because if you don’t run it a little bit or have a quarterback who can maneuver, then those safeties have no being nosy.”
Sam Webb: Do you have to outrush Michigan State to beat them?
Marcus Ray: “No, this isn’t 20 years ago where I remember Coach Carr giving us a stat… that the winner of this game had the most rush yards at the end. That’s not the reality no more. Because Michigan State, let’s face it, they are a passing team. They’ve run the ball still a little bit, just enough, but they want to get vertical and score a lot of points right now. You don’t have to outrush them, you have to win the turnover battle. You have to win the battle of field position. Also, you’ve got to win the big play battle. You’ve got to be able to throw a 40 yard pass over Hicks, over Trae Waynes, and flip the field and score some points.”
For more from Ray, including his take on ho Michigan State has built its program and on how experience sometimes trumps talent, press play below.