Coming off a 42-28 Homecoming win over Indiana last weekend, the Spartans (5-1) welcome the Purdue Boilermakers (1-5) to Spartan Stadium at Noon again this Saturday.
The first two drives weren’t good, the second borderline alarming as Connor Cook was asked to throw three straight times from MSU’s own 3-yard line. Really, you say? Yes. That poor play calling aside, there was only two other clear mistakes the unit made in their best performance since 2011. One was a fumble by the charging Freshmen RB Delton Williams that seemed to occur because the ball slipped off some arm sleeves he quickly took off after that play. The other was one of the single worst play call ideas since MSU’s painfully slooooowl developing 3rd Down toss to Jehuu Caulcrick in the Michigan game from 2007.
To open the 2nd Quarter, in the midst of what became an 83-yard Touchdown drive, the Spartans inexplicably ran a Wide Receiver-Reverse from the Indiana 14. Why a slow developing east-west type of play was called there is beyond most people who saw it. Especially when you’re clearly more physical up front (for a change) and you’re inside the Red Zone. Reverses seem to usually work only when their run between the 20s, or maybe if you’ve got Javon Ringer or Marcus Allen doing the leg work. MSU should burn that play from the Red Zone chart for good. After that choice was widely bemoaned, it was bailed out perfectly by two downs of Jeremy Langford running in enough space to tie the game at 7. It would not be the last we heard from Langford.
We were told early Saturday that Mark Dantonio wanted 200 yards rushing on Saturday, no matter how it came about. MSU ended up with 238 and easily could’ve had two backs over the 100-yard mark. Langford had the break out kind of day Spartan Nation has been hoping for as he scored 4 times and ran it for 109 to go along with the 11-yard TD catch,. His work earned him Conference Player of the Week honors. Freshmen Delton Williams continued to assert himself, bouncing back from the fumble to carry for 92-yards of his own on only 12 carries. Both backs did a good job of getting “north” with the ball as soon as they could, but Williams looks like he’s got explosive power that will make him the go-to guy against the heavyweights of this conference. The ground game is coming, and that’s thanks to player’s health and the influence of their running game guru, Jim Bollman.
It wasn’t all done on the ground since MSU hung 42 in the battle for the Ole’ Brass Spittoon. Cook had his best day going 22/31 for 235 yards, but still has some work to do with the ball he throws. Cook’s inaccuracy usually reveals itself by overshooting a target too high. But almost all of his errant passes have the common factor of a slightly wobbly ball. Granted, Kirk Cousins threw one of the best spirals in school history, Brian Hoyer’s were pretty on target, and Andrew Maxwell’s doesn’t look too bad either. Quarterbacking standards around here are pretty high these days, but I wonder if a QB guru would look at Cook’s mechanics and find a flaw in his grip or release that would explain these misses. If it’s something that simple, there should be a pretty quick fix made and Cook’s game may soon shift into a higher gear, taking the Offense to a whole new level.
The Coach’s choice not to play another QB Saturday suggests once again that they are more interested in getting Cook experience than they are in finding out what anyone else can do with the Offense right now. I don’t know if Cook’s improvement is solely the result of being named “the guy” or is just a matter of in-game reps. The truth can be seen in the last 90 minutes of game tape. It’s clear that Cook is starting to build better on-field chemistry with the receivers.
Coach D told us this summer that MSU could play as many as 9 Wide Receivers during the season. Saturday, 11 different players caught passes. While not all of them were Wide Outs, MSU is developing a broad set of options for the different situations that November games will present. It’s too soon to think this playing group has matured past the toe-stubbing phase of running average routes and dropping easy catches, but they should get beyond that for good before Michigan comes to town.
The Offensive Line looks better than they have in a couple of years, with plenty of room to grow. “They’re getting better as well, which helps the whole deal, but I really think if you watch the last couple of games that the Quarterback is really starting to see the field,” first year Purdue Coach Darrell Hazell told us earlier this week about the Offense. With the Running Back rotation now defined, the backfield has rounded out with Cook solidified as this season’s starter and the pass catchers at Wide Receiver and Tight End are showing signs of confidence and establishing a reliable pecking order. Simply said, this unit is heading in the right direction and should add a big hunk of momentum this week.
We talked last week that the Defense could play pretty well and give up 25 or so to the high scoring Hoosiers. Early Saturday it looked like they could be there by Halftime as Indiana broke the biggest play of the year against them, the 64-yard TD run in the game’s opening drive. Not long after, IU was back threatening to go up 14-0 half way through the 1st Quarter before they blasted holes in their feel with 20-yards of back-to-back penalties. After those self inflicted wounds, the MSU Offense completed a very long drive and the Defense took that time to regroup.
Outside of a late 53-yard pass given up early in the 3rd, the Defense did what they had to do Saturday and put the other units in position to win the football game. The Offense did as much on Saturday, making it feel more like a true “team” win. Plenty of Spartans saw action on the Defense against the fast moving Hoosiers, which should again bode well for the future of this dominant unit that is always looking for edges to sharpen and angles to carve out. This week a lot of different guys should play once again.
“The whole football team plays behind that Defense that they have,” Coach Hazell observed. “You can just see them (the Defense) playing off of each other.” Purdue is 121st in “Points For” heading into this game, 119th in rushing yards overall. Those number should be no better come about 3:15 Saturday afternoon. There’s not much to say about the coming opponent outside of the opinion that the Defense should completely dominate the Boilers. This is a game the Defense will want to complete a shutout, no doubt about it. Whether they can might depend on Purdue’s starting field position, and how long the Snarling Narduzzi’s best players stay in the game. It’s rare that you can look forward and legitimately predict a good shot at a complete game shutout performance against a Big Ten team, but it’s hard to see this Saturday’s opponent in any other way.
Not a busy Saturday for this unit as MSU didn’t attempt a Field Goal and didn’t register any Kick Return yards. There was one glaring issue as Macgarrett Kings lost track of a punt mid-way through the 2nd Quarter that Indiana recovered, and then converted into a TD to tie the game at 14. It was all MSU from that point, but at the time the error was costly because it lost MSU the momentum it had snatched away from IU after their strong start. Kings’ fumble was just the kind of break the Hoosiers needed to get back into the game. While it’s easy to brush over the fumble because of the final score, we should view it in the proper context and recognize it was a decent sized mistake. Does that mean the leash has become shorter on Kings moving forward? Probably not unless the staff doesn’t see much of a gap between the Sophomore and whoever they consider next on the depth chart. Based on what we’ve seen thus far, there is a big gap between Kings and the rest.
If the Spartans are well ahead of Purdue this week, maybe we’ll see R.J. Shelton or another new option back there to field a Punt. “Too good of a player to not get him on the field this year,” Dantonio explained about moving the True Freshmen Shelton to a different position (WR, KR) to get his hands on the ball. Talent is not in short supply, as evidenced by the fact that neither Kings nor Shelton were slated to return many kicks before the start of the year. We can now see clearly that these youngsters are going to get better and more dangerous as they chase the long shadow of Spartan return great Keshawn Martin. “Our guys understand the necessity of special teams and we work very hard at it,” Coach D reminded us.
The Spartans played better last Saturday than they have since the Outback Bowl comeback over Georgia. While Indiana isn’t a very good team, they forced MSU to score points and the Spartans won all three phases of the game. It now looks like the Spartans are back on track and will make a run at the double-digit comeback season the entire program has been working towards. Such a final record would feel like a lightning bolt that zapped most of 2012 from Spartan Nation’s memory. On Saturday MSU looked like we thought they would on the opening night of the season and is set up nicely to keep building momentum through a soft October schedule. Anyone that saw the Notre Dame game knows MSU should be 6-0 right now. Hopefully that eats at this team and drives them that much more.
Purdue is a bad football team that’s at the very beginning of trying to reboot themselves once again. When Cowboy Joe Tiller came to town with a fast paced passing-spread attack, he fortunately brought a smallish Quarterback up from Texas who scorched the entire league and brought the Boilers back to the Rose Bowl. Drew Brees is now long gone, Tiller is too, and Purdue is just 27-41 since 2008.
Petey Purdue got hammered last week by Nebraska 44-7. They’ve given up more than 40 in four of their first six games. Translation: it should get ugly Saturday in Spartan Stadium. This is the spot in the schedule where MSU should pull it all together and blow out a couple of rebuilding Big Ten programs, Indiana was the first. While Mark Dantonio’s inclination may to try and avoid showing the Boilermakers up on Saturday by scoring more than Nebraska did, his program kind of needs to. Nationally there’s still not a lot of love for MSU because they are perceived to be so bad offensively. The best way to shake that notion is by hanging a big number when you should. Purdue fits that scenario.
It’s also time to clean up the ridiculous penalties that have popped up again, and can easily pop up in a couple of blow outs only to later sink you in a tighter big game. “The ones that I’m concerned about are the unforced penalties (ex. lining up offsides)…and then the penalties where you lose your composure,” Dantonio explained. “We’ve gotta correct that.” If they don’t, count on it costing them in a big situation later this season.
There probably aren’t enough penalties in the book for Purdue to become a serious threat for 60 minutes this Saturday. MSU should keep the gas pedal down and when they’re up more than 3 scores, but shuffle in a whole lot of youth across the field to get some quality experience deep into the roster. You can’t truly chase it when you start to pull your foot off the gas because your opponent has fallen so far behind. Maybe that kind of approach can return in 2014, but not this year.
The starters’ goal should be to apply a 1st Half knockout and then get off the field to get healthy for the road trip to Champaign and game action for the youth of the program. That’s what this program can do to make a firmer statement that 2012 was an aberration, the start of 2013 was completely misleading, and that Spartan Football is back in gear to chase championships again.
P.A.T. (Perhaps Another Thought…)
- It’s the humans, not the helmet or cumulative number of “little hits” that’s causing the game’s concussion and head injuries crisis more than anything else. Yet, the NFLPA still hasn’t agreed to a blood test for HGH andor anything else that’s being widely used, primarily during the off season. So while the PBS Frontline documentary was mostly a nice summary of the past work HBO’s Real Sports and the NY Times have done, it’s missing the BIG picture, the over sized people playing the game. The next feature we need on this topic should include some hard physics so we can understand how much more severe the force and impact are of the super humans doing the hitting these days. Don’t think it matters much? Turn on the baseball playoffs and then compare the size of today’s player to one from 15 years ago.
- The Spartans’ helmet colors don’t match the uniform very well. I remember the first time we saw the new “Nike Spartan Green” helmets on TV a few years back in a pre-season special and initially I thought they almost gave off a purple hue off of them. A few others have mentioned the same thing while watching on TV. A bunch of teams have recently gone to a flatter paint finish on their helmets (think non-shiny). Perhaps that would help the colors match better because those school’s new helmets make MSU’s stand out even more.
- To follow up from last week in case anyone thought I don’t own a history book, the 1966 “10-10 tie” is not only the biggest game in the history of Spartan Stadium it’s without question the most famous game in the history of College Football. And it doesn’t look like it will ever come under a legitimate threat to be unseated of that honor. The best game I’ve personally seen in the stadium would be the “Rocket” win over Wisconsin, and based on the poll results it sounds like many of you agree.