1, Through two games, what have been your overall impressions of this Michigan State team?
Dave Berk: This Spartans team has a lot of potential but still some questions on both sides of the ball. Many worried after the lackluster win against Furman but started to believe with the win against Notre Dame. The Spartans can be good on both sides of the ball but could also still suffer some growing pains as they’ve had to have a few guys on offense go over and play along the defensive line to shore it up.
Offensively the Spartans can run the ball and QB Tyler O’Connor and his group of receivers have enough talent that teams can’t rest on the passing game.
Defensively they have one of the deepest group of linebackers in college football and some solid players in the secondary. But outside of Malik McDowell and Demetrius Cooper, there are still questions along the front four.
2, Which group made a bigger statement to you in Michigan State’s victory over Notre Dame – the offense or the defense?
Berk: Had to be the offense that showed balance with 501 total yards, including 260 yards on the ground. Tyler O’Connor is better than what he’s been able to show in the past and he’s got a great group of running backs and an offensive line that looks to be gelling early.
3, Tyler O'Connor had big shoes to fill replacing Connor Cook at quarterback. How has he handled the job through two games?
Berk: By all accounts you have to be impressed with what O’Connor has done in his first two games of the season. He’s hitting on just over 72 percent of his throws (32-44) with only two interceptions and five touchdowns, and he’s thrown the ball to nine different targets. He’s done a good job of managing the game and keeping the offense moving, especially in the red zone where they have scored seven times in seven attempts.
4, Senior receiver R.J. Shelton is a Beaver Dam native. How has his play helped add a dimension to the Spartans offense?
Berk: The Spartans have done a good job of using Shelton’s speed with a few short shovel passes and end arounds. The addition of the shovel passes against Notre Dame became a big weapon. Fans would like to see him become more aggressive in the punt return game, but against Notre Dame he posted 96 yards of total offense and one touchdown.
5, The Spartans’ offensive line dominated the trenches and the time of possession against Notre Dame, helping the offense hold the ball for over 37 minutes. Despite losing three offensive linemen from its Big Ten title team, what’s been the key to their success early on?
Berk: All three on N.F.L. rosters in some capacity, but the leadership of Brian Allen - along with the ability of linemen - being able to play multiple positions has helped this year’s squad. Against Notre Dame, Allen, along with Benny McGowan and Kodi Kieler, all played more than one position. Offensive line coach Mark Staten has been working towards this over the past few seasons and it looks like he’s finally getting a line that can almost interchange with each other. Add in the improved play of Miguel Machado at right tackle and early development of David Beedle, and the Spartans look strong along the line.
6, The calling card of a Mark Dantonio has always been the team’s defense. Where is this unit heading into conference play?
Berk: The linebackers are deep and talented and you have a first-round draft pick in McDowell. Cooper doesn’t receive must talk but he’s a very talented defensive end able to make a difference. Still questions along the line, and the secondary has experience with Demetrious Cox and Montae Nicholson at the safeties and Darian Hicks at one corner. The players to watch in the secondary are sophomores Vayante Copeland and Tyson Smith. Both have great ball skills and could play beyond the college level. Overall this unit is solid and a group that Mark Dantonio can win a lot of games with.
7, What’s your take on Michigan State only playing two nonconference games before conference play starts? Do you think that helps or hurts them?
Berk: Having a bye week in week two was not what the Spartans wanted. It might have allowed for some extra prep work for Notre Dame, but in the grand scheme I’m sure they would rather have a week off later in the season. The next ten weeks will be a grind and a major test of the Spartans toughness when they get nicked up. So overall it might well hurt them when it matters most with Ohio State in nine weeks.
8, What does Michigan State like to do defensively to try and rattle quarterbacks?
Berk: Bring pressure from all parts of the defense. They can bring up safeties and corners in blitz packages without quarterbacks knowing their coming as they like to press coverage receivers. They can also bring multiple linebackers and stunt McDowell inside or outside.
9, What areas of Wisconsin do you expect will give Michigan State trouble? Where do you think the Spartans have the edge over the Badgers?
Berk: To say one team has an edge over the other at this stage of the season is hard to do. If each looked in the mirror they can see the other in the reflection, as both teams like to do a lot of the same on both sides of the ball. If the past is any indicator of what to expect, you expect to always see a hard fought close game when these two teams meet.
10, What is the one thing Michigan State needs to do well in order to win Saturday?
Berk: Come out focused and not living in what happened last Saturday at Notre Dame. The biggest thing the Spartans must do is come out ready to play their style of football from the first snap. They can’t have any emotional baggage left from last week. Also make the adjustment to a noon kickoff as the Spartans have played both of their games this season at night.