A look at this week’s opponent…
The Gophers are bowl eligible with six wins and looking for more. They lost their #1 WR who quit the team in a ‘prima donna look at me’ temper tantrum last week and according to a good friend who works in the athletic department, “I think it galvanized us and helped us. He (departed WR) wasn’t well-liked in my opinion and even those that did think his doing this the week before the last game was more of an attention grab.” We shall see.
Coach Jerry Kill has a great track record of success and developing players. He enters this game with a ton of respect for Dantonio and company. Coach Kill said of the Spartans coming in after a heartbreak loss to Northwestern, “I think a good team, and he’s a good coach. I don’t think it’s going to make a difference. I think each week it’s important. It’s hard to win. It’s hard to win a football game. So you know, I think every game is important to every coach and every team. Now, the mentality of the team coming in and all those kind of things, that’s a hard one to ‑‑ like I said last week, I wish I had a microchip in every helmet to see what’s going on in their ‑‑ sometimes to make sure they’re ready and what they’re thinking. I think one way or the other Michigan State is going to come in and play good, and we’re in a situation where they need the game to get to a bowl game. So you know they’re going to get their best.”
Dantonio came out with a bold statement. He minced no words calling this a program game. He said, “This week up is Minnesota. I think it’s a program game for us, no question about that. Sometimes you have your goals in mind, you have to reevaluate your goals as you move forward. Right now our goal is to get to a bowl game.”
When MSU has the ball…
I have heard all week how bad the Minnesota D is. Obviously people haven’t watched them. They are very stout at the point of attack. MSU has to go to the air to beat the Gophers this year. They must force them out of the box. They need a full dose of Dion Sims and some completions to help LeVeon Bell.
All year it has been the same story. Bell is a back that has to get up to speed, but how many times has he been hit in the backfield. It has become a joke. I know there have been injuries, but this offensive line has regressed. They can’t play the way they have the last two weeks and win.
Fans and some members of the media may not have a lot of respect for the Gophers, but Dantonio does. He cited that side of the Gophers attack and praised them saying, “Defensively they’re hovering around in certain areas defensively in the top 30 in the nation, so they’re an improved football team in that respect. They play hard, don’t take one play off on any special teams play because they’re going to fake something on you, whether it’s a field goal, a possible punt or something. They’re going to play to win.”
He went on to add, “Our time going up to Minnesota, we need to make sure our mind is right. Last time we went up there, we didn’t play very well. But I think it was Halloween and fate (laughter). Just want to throw that in there. But, no, they’re an improved football team. But I think they’re a well‑coached football team.”
The Gophers are going to key on stopping the Spartan running attack. That is why the passing game is so critical. Coach Kill had a lot to say about LeVeon Bell and the Spartans rushing attack.
“It’s very important. You hit him at the line of scrimmage, he’s so big he falls forward for three yards. I think he’s carried it 26 times in the first half. I think the next backs only had 15 carries. So he’s going to get the ball. And if you’re beat up or not fresh legged against him, it’s going to be a long day. So that’s one of the big issues. We gotta make sure that our guys are feeling good, and we’re going to have to be ready for a physical football game. That’s who they are. They’re physical on defense. They’re physical on offense. A lot of people say they’ve had ‑‑ this is an important game because it gets them bowl eligible. But they haven’t slipped any. They’ve just been in a heck of a lot of close games and played a lot of good people. They’re still Michigan State.”
Coach Kill knows what Maxwell is capable of. He talked about what happens when you stop the run. “Then when you get up there and you load up on the run that’s when they play action pass you and catch you. That’s their game, similar to Wisconsin, I mean what they do and how they play. Very similar.”
So MSU has to use the pass to free up the running game and the MSU OL finally has to show up. They are under the microscope this week.
When MSU is on defense…
Coach Kill has a ton of respect for Dantonio and Narduzzi and he should. He said of the Spartans well respected defense, “Defensively, you know, Coach has been ‑‑ I’ve known their defensive coordinator a long time and they’ll bring the zone pressures, and they had 9‑11 of them back from last year, so they’re good on defense. So we got our work cut out for us. I know as a coach staff we’re excited about the opportunity to get back out there and play.”
Coach Kill broke down the MSU D saying, “Last year we played ‑‑ we moved the ball last year against them at Michigan State. And I think you have to ‑‑ you just gotta do a good job up front. You gotta get a body on a body and you gotta make good reads at quarterback and you gotta be able to make some plays. Even you look back on the game on Saturday, we had chances to make plays. We had guys open. We had shots. We just didn’t make plays, and I think against Michigan State is the same scenario. They’re not going to come out and try to trick you on defense or do anything different than what we’ve done. That’s why they’re good. They’re good at what they do. You know what they’re going to do, but you have to execute and our big deal whether it’s running the ball or throwing the ball we gotta do a good job of executing. And physically we’re going to have to play very hard, and I think our kids understand.”
He continued, “There’s no room for error. I said that all last year, and through some of the injuries we’ve had there’s really no room for error. We’ve gotta fight our tail end off. But our kids have done that. They have done that. They really have. I have no complaints. I think they’ve played hard all year. I think we’re getting everything we can get out of them. I think the only thing as a coach when you watch the film and you have to evaluate it and you look early and you look now and you look where you’re at and you see the speed of the game, and you see some wear and tear, then you gotta figure out how to get those legs back a little bit. So that’s what we gotta do.”
The MSU D must stop the run and get pressure. Minnesota has a freshman QB who will one day play in the NFL. He is a real deal star, but he is still young. Can Johnny Adams play like last year? Can the MSU pressure get home? The pressure of having to play nearly perfect AND score for this team to win adds up fast.
Fatigue is a factor. Not physical, they are in good shape. Can they take care of it mentally? On the D side of the ball, the biggest question for me is their mental mindset. Do they get off the field after a three and out only to have to immediately return? Do they look at a scoreboard failing to add points with an anemic offense?
Like last week, this week will be the same. The offense needs a fast start. If the offense fails to start fast I think we see the same we have seen all year. If they can march down and score early I think the odds of an MSU win go up in a big way. If they can send a sign to the D that they have made the flight with them, the Spartans can and should win.
Mental. How many players have already mailed it in? Not saying have quit, but are just mentally fatigued from a roller coaster. In all six MSU losses this year Dan Conroy has missed a field goal. Last week after his miss the tension went high on the sidelines. Dantonio thought that the snap and hold was fine, but on the sidelines Conroy didn’t. Those types of things are signs of frustration and frustration affect performance.
Will this team start to fall apart with early adversity that is certain to rear its head or will they stay strong for the bowl eligible win?
To me the story line for this game is more about the Spartans mental makeup and less about the Gophers. Can a group of seniors who as a whole have failed as leaders this year somehow rally this team?
Can younger players step up and just take the leadership role and force this team to win? You define a class by their senior year and fair or not, this class has a chance to somehow keep some of the tarnish of theirs with a big win…If they take the lead.
The Spartan Nation needs to almost divorce itself mentally of this game and simply put it on the microscope. This team is playing for pride and bowl practices that are more about the future than today. Are players thinking about getting out of town to train for the draft or getting extra bowl practices for their school?
I have no reason to think this team rises up with their backs against the wall and fights for the win like Rocky Balboa. What I do think is that they are a better team and somehow barely get a win from what should be a blow out. A win or a loss wouldn’t shock me.
If the Spartans win, they will make a bowl, but don’t deserve one. No 6-6 team does, but they’ll take it. This game is more for the practices than the game itself.
Make it 14-13 with a last second score by MSU!