Michigan State Scouting Report

The idea of being associated with the Notre Dame Football program has always been a dream to many fans, former high school players, and coaches. I have to admit to the fantasy of running through that tunnel with my gold helmet gleaming in the sun as a kid.

There was also a time in my life where I had the young coach's fantasy of stalking the sidelines as a coach at Notre Dame. After all, as ND fans, we all knew about Digger's letter to Ara.

Assuming that I had acquired the coaching expertise of any one of the present staff's members, I could still imagine myself spending all those hours in film study, staff meetings, game plan preparation, practices, and coaching my position. Well, I could if I was on the offensive side of the staff. Defense? I don't think so.

Remembering the ND-MSU game last year, and after watching the MSU-Pittsburgh game this year, I wouldn't want to be Rick Minter, Bill Lewis, Jappy Oliver, or Brian Polian this week. I wouldn't even want to be graduate assistant Jeff Burrows.

Michigan State vs Pittsburgh

It should be noted that I was in South Bend last week while my wife purchased and Tivoed the MSU-Pitt game. In the process she had to deal with a cable employee from a cow town that shall go unnamed. The result of that dealing was that the game didn't come to my home until there was 6:39 remaining in the first quarter.

Michigan State 0 10 14 14 38
Pittsburgh 10 0 0 13 23

Pitt scored the first ten points of the game as Stanton was plagued by drops according to the announcers. (Remember I didn't have the first seven and a half minutes of the game.) MSU then ran off 38 unanswered points with Pitt scoring their last 14 points with 4:47 and 0:00 on the clock. The last TD came about as MSU was running the clock out with reserves and the TB fumbled, giving Pitt the ball with 1:17 left to score on the game's last play. From the first MSU score to the 4:47 mark the Spartans dominated the game.

Michigan State is averaging 506 yards a game, 258 yards via the run, and 248 yards passing. With that kind of balance, and the athleticism of QB Drew Stanton, Michigan State's spread offense is a defensive coordinator's worst nightmare.

The Spartans' primary offensive sets are the one back set and the shotgun. They run and pass effectively from both sets. They use three, four, and five receiver sets that involve various combinations of wide receivers, TEs and even running backs. Drew Stanton had one of highest passing ratings in Division I last year, finishing tenth. He's ranked twenty-first this year, but I saw at least five drops in the Pittsburgh game, one of which would have been a touchdown. One can only guess at the number of drops in the first two games and wonder where Stanton's passer rating would be had they been caught.

MSU vs Pitt Stats, Sept. 16, 2006, at Pittsburgh

Rushing:

Javon Ringer: 15 att, 156 yd, 10.4 avg, longest 71 yd
Drew Stanton: 13 att, 105 yd, 8.1 avg, longest 21 yd, 1TD, 1 sack for -5 yd
Jehuu Caulcrick: 17 att, 64 yd, 3.8 avg, longest 13 yd, 2 TD

Left: 7 rushes Middle: 31 rushes Right: 7 rushes

Passing:

Drew Stanton: 16 for 25, 198 yds, TD of 2 & 12 yd, 1 INT, rating 148.9

Left: 14 attempts Middle: 5 attempts Right: 6 attempts

Receiving:

Kerry Reed: 7 rec, 103 yd, 14.7 avg, longest 26 yd, 1 TD
Jerramy Scott: 6 rec, 74 yd, 12.3 avg, longest 41 yd
Javon Ringer: 1 rec, 13 yd
Matt Trannon: 1 rec, 6 yd
Kellen Davis: 1 rec, 2 yd 1 TD

First Downs:

MSU: 24, 17 rushing, 6 passing, 1 penalty - 11 of 15 3rd downs, 73%, 4th down. % NA

Penalties: MSU, 9 for 75 yd

Time of Possession:

MSU: 35:38
Pitt: 24:22

MSU's Offense

Michigan State's running game vs Pitt consisted of Stanton and whoever is at the TB position running very few, but very effective plays. As a team, MSU averages 6.24 yards per rush. The Spartan offensive line is a big one that wore down the smaller, but quicker Pitt DL.

Stanton will run the option, the QB keeper from the shotgun, and scramble very effectively when his receivers are covered, or if he is pressured out of the pocket. Stanton doesn't have great speed, but reads lanes well, cuts well, and has the knack of getting by people. Anyone who saw the MSU-Pitt game would see that after a lackluster first quarter, and an average half, the Spartan offense exploded, sparked by the legs of Stanton.

The primary TB, Javon Ringer, is short at 5-foot-9, but is a solid 195 pounds, who can get both the hard yards, go the distance with his speed, and is dangerous on the option and the draw from either offensive set. He's also extremely strong benching 390 pounds and squatting 600 pounds. The other TB is Jehuu Caulcrick, who at 6-foot and 260 pounds is a load, who helps keep Ringer fresh while he's pounding away at your defense. The Spartan receivers block very effectively for the running game.

Michigan State's passing game presents formations that range from the double wing, trips to one side, twins on both sides of the formation, various wide and tight slots, five wide, and everything in between. The Spartans motion one of their slots at times, both across the formation and reversing said motion going back across the formation. Often the TE is kept in to block. It's not unusual to see five receivers in running patterns for MSU, but often a TE stays in to block.

Stanton, in the Pitt game, was observed using three and five step drops, roll outs, and the bootleg. He throws the ball accurately on the run and in dropping back. While not possessing the proverbial gun he's strong enough to make all the throws. He's also the best I've seen throwing on the run in some time, especially when rolling left being a right handed QB. It's my opinion that MSU tried a fade to their widest receiver early on to open up their slots on shorter routes. The Spartans run a lot of outs, hoping their physical receivers can bust one, and there was one turned into a 41 yard play on missed tackles. The also run drags, hitches, WR screens, curls, and rays. ( In our terminology a ray was usually a slot going 7 yards downfield at a 45 degree angle towards the sidelines and stopping.)

It's in the air as to who is Stanton's favorite receiver. Matt Trannen, No. 6, is 6-foot-6, 238 pounds and caught 14 passes against Eastern Michigan. Pitt obviously did all they could to shut him down, as he only caught one pass, and that was not until there were only 58 seconds in the third quarter. The Spartan offense didn't miss him as Jeremy Scott, No. 32, stepped up with six receptions, and Kerry Reed, No.15 added seven. Both marks were season highs for the two receivers.

Things to look for when MSU is on offense:

The option: Stanton is more inclined to keep the ball when backed up against his goal line and when close to the opponent's goal line. If MSU runs the option as much as they did against Pitt then look for 8 to 10 options in the game. Those totals are nothing close to a Navy or Air Force game total for the option, but the mere fact that may run that many options puts the ND defense in a precarious position considering their other weapons. How well the Irish control MSU's option will be a major factor in the game. Sadly, ND lost in overtime last year on an option.

Coaching point on Stanton for LBs and DBs: If you have Stanton in your sights on the option and you make eye contact with him…ignore the ball fake of a pitch and hit him. He can't pitch without looking at the TB. Unfortunately, for Pitt, their defenders lost sight of this a few times.

Running from the shotgun: Four things to watch for: First, Stanton giving the ball to the TB, second, running a keeper off a TB fake, third, the option with the TB, and fourth a two pronged option that Utah liked to run with Smith at QB. This last play adds a slot or motion man running inside the QB giving Stanton three options, shovel pass to the inside man, keeping it, and pitching to the TB.

Matt Trannon: He has thrown one pass this year for a completion against E. Michigan, a 35 yd pass, to third TB Jimmerson, but not in the Pitt game. However, in the Pitt game, he was going to launch a throwback pass to Stanton, who was covered, and he pulled it down and ran with it. The Irish cannot be duped by a Trannon pass to anyone.

Near ND's goal line: Here, if not running option, MSU will most likely go two tight ends, double wing, single set back, and have Caulcrick pound it in. They also have Stanton roll out and hit the TE on an out pattern for one TD vs Pitt. That one went to the right. What do you want to bet MSU goes left if they run such a play?

Mirrored patterns from twin receivers to both sides: Does Stanton read the coverage and decide which side to throw to? Since both twins frequently run the exact same patterns on both sides? Can't say for sure that's the case, but they did run mirror patterns often from a two twin set, though they will change it up.

MSU Special Teams

Punting: Brandon Fields: 2 for 99 yd, 49.5 avg. longest 51

Place Kicking: Brett Swenson, 1 of 1 for 43 yards and plenty more distance

Punt Returns: Terry Love: 3 for 14 yd, 4.7 avg

KO Returns: Demond Williams, 2 for 36 yd, 18.0 avg

Punt Coverage: 1 punt returned 3 yd

Kickoff coverage: 1 touchback, and 6 returned for 185 yd, 30.8 avg

Special team strength for the Spartans looks to be their punter and FG kicker. Their return teams do not seem to be anything special. Pitt even recovered an onside kick in the first half after they scored. Oh, that Wanny. The biggest thing is that Pitt averaged 30.8 yd per KO return as the Pitt return man, a freshman, really brought it on returns, going full speed from the get go. Pitt's success in the returning of KO's and a strong Irish effort on KO returns may be a factor in the game. Hopefully the Irish will line up for very few KOs and when they do they make those long returns.

MSU's Defense

Pitt initially moved the ball on the Spartans the first half on emotion and a good blend of run and pass plays. Initially Pitt ran well off tackle, but runsup the gut and toss plays were stuffed by MSU. As the Spartan offense began to pile on the points they got away from what worked in the first half and put the game in Palko's hands, but Palko didn't have the weapons to come back.

Youth at receiver hurt Pitt as they made fundamental and mental errors, such as not getting a foot down on a catch, drops, and cutting routes short on third and long. They also don't have much of a deep threat. I saw the panthers defeat Cincinnati on long pass plays, but they were catch and run plays, and MSU tackles well in the secondary and at LB. The MSU DB's will play press coverage from time to time, so based on what has happened to ND lately I expect a lot of it come Saturday.

Michigan State's front four is not in the class of Michigan's as far as bringing pressure, but the Spartans have more depth this year and feature a 6-8 man rotation up front in keeping them fresh.

The strength of the Spartans on defense is their LBs from what I saw in the Pitt game. All are good tacklers, active in the passing lanes, scrape well, and able to blitz.

All in all, MSU is not Michigan defensively, but the Irish need to score at a higher pace than the MSU offense to come home with a win. MSU is 7-2 the last nine years against the Irish, are confident, and playing at home. It will be a dog fight.

My prediction, as usual, will be in the members' prediction board…most likely late Saturday afternoon. I'm still waiting for some one to notice something about my predictions the past two years.

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