Scouting Report and Prediction: #8 Michigan State (0-0 0-0) vs. Jacksonville State (0-0 0-0)
A look at this week’s opponent…
JSU is a FCS school, but for those of you older than seven you would remember that as what we used to call a 1AA team. I don’t like these games for the fans, but it isn’t breaking the rules and the type of scheme they run is a great precursor to Oregon. They have a first year head coach, but a highly respected one who is proven as an OC in John Grass.
The more research I did on John Grass, I heard things like “Very innovative like Chip Kelly the former Oregon and current NFL Coach,” “Won’t be there long,” and “Offensive genius.” Those things speak for themselves.
Secondly, Grass has talent. Not MSU talent, but a lot of it. He has several guys that held SEC and Power Five conference offers, but either didn’t qualify or transferred for playing time. MSU gets a school that is 1AA, but not an opponent with matching talent of the label.
When MSU has the ball…
This game rests on Connor Cook and Dave Warner. I add this caveat, if Mark Dantonio stands by what he has said universally all off season. This is Dantonio’s best offense. Not even close to questionable. We saw last year that Michigan State was at its best when Cook and Warner were on the attack.
When MSU came out like that in the Rose Bowl and the B1G Championship game, we saw the outcomes. In fact, earlier this week I asked Dantonio this. “You mentioned the other day about being aggressive, coming out, going after points maybe not in the past, that was your nature. How exciting is that to an offense knowing we’re going to come out with our foot on the gas pedal?”
His answer to me was VERY telling and should excite the Spartan Nation and concern opposing teams. “You know, hopefully I’ve never given that indication that I want to slow it down, but I think that our offense grew immensely from game 1 last year through game 14, and I think what we’ve done offensively, we’ve had a very strong spring. We’ve had a very productive fall camp, and I’m looking forward to watching our offense perform during the season, and I think we have a lot of weapons there. I think we have a lot of weapons. I think we had a lot of weapons going into last year, but now what we have I think is a lot of confidence, and I think that bears out in terms of how we’re playing and our skill level.”
Tonight’s game will tell us a lot. I don’t want MSU to use the entirety of the play book, I just want them to stay as vanilla as possible, but still attack. They have shown a lot over the last seven years that they can use and not reveal any new schemes for Oregon.
Put Cook and Warner on the attack and come out scoring. I ONLY want to see Cook play one half. I want this team to act and perform like a legitimate national contender and get him off the field. I want reps for the backups as the Spartans dreams of national glory would be shattered if Cook went down and they had no backup with meaningful real reps. Tyler O’Connor and Damion Terry could start for 12 other Big Ten teams right now. If Cook got injured (and we all pray he doesn’t and no one does), this team can still reach their dreams BUT NOT with a QB with no real reps to draw on.
Dantonio, who is nationally renowned as a defensive genius, gushed with praise for the JSU defenders. Unlike most coaches, Dantonio does not wax poetic with hyperbole about an opponent. If he genuinely feels something he says it.
He said, “They’ve got quite a few transfers on defense. They’ve got six returners on defense. But with that, they have six or seven transfers that are coming in from various places such as Alabama, Tennessee, South Florida, Southern Miss, those types of places. First time coordinator at Jacksonville State, defensive coordinator is coming from Fordham, so it’s a little bit got to feel our way through a little bit as far as our offense versus their defense in terms of exactly who they’re going to be, but that’ll clarify itself as we move through the game, so we’ll be prepared for a lot of different things.”
So what about the offense? Stay vanilla on anything new and attack. Send a message to the nation.
When MSU is on defense…
The Spartans defense is the nation’s best. They have proven that over the last several years. Will this unit be the best in the land this year? I do not think that, but I do think they will be in the top ten.
Dantonio praised the Gamecocks offense by saying, “When you look at their offense, they’ve got almost 3,000 yards or over 3,000 yards of passing, over 3,000 yards of rushing, 6,000 plus yards in 15 games, so they’re a balanced football team. Jenkins, No.7, is a dual threat kind of quarterback. He’s run for almost 1,000 yards and passed for a bunch, as well. Their other quarterback is a guy that really can throw it, Max Shortell, and he’s much more of maybe a pro style attack guy. They use both those quarterbacks. DaMarcus James, an outstanding tailback, a big, thick guy that’s run for about 1,500 yards. The other two tailbacks they’re going to use, as well, so they’re going to be complements to him. The offensive line returns about three starters, and Barge is probably their No.1 wide receiver but Gonzalez is a transfer.”
Michigan State has unsettled business at linebacker. Darien Harris had a great fall camp and to see Mylan Hicks listed as an OR as the starter with him was stunning. I believe as do some others that it was more of a nod to Hicks being a senior than it does to his truly being equal. We will learn the reality of that kind of thinking next week. For this week, does Riley Bullough (who many thought had the best overall camp of anyone) continue to move towards a starter’s role?
What about the freshman defensive line? Does Enoch Smith, Jr. redshirt? Coming into the season, I was certain he would BUT of the entire freshman DT’s he may have had the best camp. Will Dantonio play Malik McDowell? Did he earn a role? The Spartans would love to redshirt the entire class, on both sides of the ball, but this was Dantonio’s best class and frankly, they might just be too talented to do such.
When looking at the JSU attack, Dantonio thinks that they change like a chameleon depending on the signal caller. He explained, “Depends on who’s their quarterback a little bit. When Jenkins, 7, is in there, they’re a little bit more like a Nebraska, Ohio State, with runs from the quarterback position. I think when Shortell is in there, they’re a little bit more like a traditional passing team, maybe more like Indiana in some regards. They’re going to spread you out horizontally and vertically, and it’s going to be quick, rapid I’m not sure how fast they’re going because we haven’t seen them in real time, but it looks like they’re going very fast from all indications that we have and all information that we gathered. They look like they go pretty quickly.”
This defense WILL NOT be as good as last year. If all 11 starters were back, I don’t think they would be. That is a once-every-fifty-years type unit. What they can be is still a top ten and still dominant. I want to see Michigan State be assignment sound. They can stop JSU, but like Oregon and Indiana they make a killing when you are too aggressive and make mistakes. Limit mistakes and play a lot of guys.
JSU is just like Oregon in that because of the pace and points, many people think they must be a pass all the time squad and they run it significantly more than perception. JSU WILL NOT upset MSU on the ground. Can they attack the No Fly Zone and score?
So, how does this break down? With all due respect to a very talented JSU team that is well coached, this game is about MSU vs. MSU. The pressure is on. They are good. They are legitimate threats to win a title. A national title.
In every step of the Dantonio regime outside of 2009 when that team fell flat because of issues among some of the team or 2012, when that season’s lack of success fell on the staff, this team has handled expectations. How will they handle this?
Dantonio said as much this week, “…we’re going to see where we’re at, because at this point in time people are going to start making statements on everybody’s football team in this country, including ours.”
Dantonio made some BOLD statements at his weekly press conference. He is fearless and I like that. We will learn as the season plays out, if they were right or wrong, but I never bet against him. Does MSU face some adversity from a talented JSU team and start to feel pressure early? How do they respond? Turnovers from either team can drastically change the game.
I know with certainty that this JSU team won’t quit. For many of them, this is their best opportunity against NFL talent to show their skills to the NFL with real tape against real legit NFL talented players. They will take everything MSU has and keep coming. The Spartans have heard for 241 days how good they are, how talented they are, and what they can and should do.
Have they forgotten how much work it is? I don’t think so, but we will see tonight.
As I have traveled around the nation and done radio and TV interviews all over this great land in the offseason, I have been asked time and time again how Dantonio will change in a playoff system.
I am proud to be his friend and I have known him for 20 years. He won’t change. Because of the interest I did ask him this question. “With the playoff system now and so much going into perception by the committee, you have a tendency to take knees and not try to run scores up. Because there is a playoff system that is subjective to the committee’s interpretation of how good you are, will that change maybe you going for points in the past where maybe you wouldn’t?”
His answer proves my point. “I don’t really see that changing. Our goal is to win a football game, and our goal is not to pile it on or disrespect. We’re going to play the game, and we’re going to if we happen to be ahead, our twos are in, we’re going to let them play. But at the end of the game, we’re also we’re going to handle it the right way. I would hope that others would do the same, but I guess we could have always gone for two last year.”
I want to see a TON of players get meaningful reps. That means MSU comes out with their foot on the gas, plays a lot of backups, and scores points. Make it 48-13 MSU wins!