As Michigan State prepares to play in the 100th Rose Bowl, Spartan Nation has already gone into great detail about the way Michigan State must attack on offense. The Cardinal will stack the box and it is up to the MSU offensive brain trust to let Connor Cook attack them and make them pay.
If MSU uses the pass to set up the run they will leave Pasadena not only as a participant in the 100th Rose Bowl, but as the winner. Stanford doesn’t like what they see in the Spartans when they attack.
Elite Stanford DB Usua Amanam had a lot of praise for the Spartans. In fact, he put them in interesting company when he said who they remind him of. “I like to draw a lot of similarities between them and Oregon State. They have the big play ability but they also have the great back. They have a great quarterback back there manning what they do on the offensive side. I think for us we just have to execute our game plan. They’ve got a bevy of wide receivers and they have a big O line, and their running back Langford can make some plays.”
The Spartans are averaging nearly 30 points a game while the Cardinal are only allowing 19. Something will have to give as the Southern California sun sets on Wednesday. What will it be?
LB Trent Murphy had things to say about the Spartans’ offense, that people usually reserve for the defense. “For Michigan State, to speak to kind of their style of play, I’m sure you’ve heard it already, but they play a physical run game especially, and then they kind of have to keep you honest with just enough explosive kind of gadget plays and shots down the field. It’s definitely a pretty solid combination as far as what they’re doing offensively, so it’ll be a challenge for us.”
The Spartans have a passer rating of OVER 128 and are holding the ball for nearly 33 minutes and 30 seconds a game. Both are very good numbers, but we all know football isn’t about X’s and O’s, it’s about Connor and his O!
The Cardinal has a real star in LB Shayne Skov. He echoes what we preached in Spartan Nation Magazine this month about the Spartan being at their best when they attack. “I think that for us, I think the key point is that we always take pride in stopping the run. I think that’s one of the first things in our kind of objectives, and they’ve successfully run the ball this year, so I think that’s the very first challenge for us. At the same time they’ve done it in various personnel groups and I think they do a good job of moving all the pieces to keep you on your toes from a schematic standpoint? Second, they do a great job with explosive play action plays, gadget plays. So I think between the two, if you’re unable to effectively stop them running the ball, it makes it very difficult because you have to play more aggressively and then they beat you down the field.”
The Spartans have thrown the ball an astounding 101 times more than Stanford this year. A startling number and yet MSU has done a remarkable job of staying balanced. The Spartans have 2,368 rushing yards this season and 2,632 passing yards. That is 5,000 yards of Spartan offense this season. Comparatively, the Cardinal has 5,375 yards of total offense.
Stanford DC Derek Mason (a college teammate & friend of MSU RB coach Brad Salem) thinks the Spartans could be the best team the Cardinal has faced all year. “I think in this ballgame it’s going to come down to the team that makes the least amount of mistakes. You’re talking about an offensive unit that’s gotten better, I mean, every week. And the quarterback, they started out playing three quarterbacks, and then they whittled it down to one.”
He went on to praise the Spartan young QB Connor Cook. “And what you see from the quarterback position is ball security. He takes care of the football. And they do a great job of distributing the football through play action because they can run the ball so well, which looks like Wisconsin, which looks like us, to a certain degree. And they keep the quarterback moving on different platforms so you can’t just hone in on where he’s going to be. It’s not three steps. It’s not just five steps. It’s a lot of play action, boot, roll, along with screens, and a sound run game, with a lot of end over UFO tackle over to really get your eyes moving.”
Mason thinks that one thing the Spartans do very well is using pre-snap movement to confuse the defense from their base offensive game planning. “So they do a lot of shifts and motions to really get your eyes moving, and then they try to get you misaligned with numbers. And we played that game versus several teams. But nobody to this point probably as good as Michigan State.”
One thing is certain. MSU loves to own the clock. They take their time between plays and milk each and every second from the game. That is why even with Stanford having more yards, the Spartan offense remains more impressive. We won’t have the answers when the sun is setting in Pasadena, but when it is set we will.
I expect the Spartans to face their toughest test of the season against Stanford and when the dust settles no one will be talking about a first year starting QB. They will be talking about a Rose Bowl champion in Connor Cook and whether or not he can bring MSU back next year.