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The 2016 TUS Football Report: Penn State Edition
Nov 25th, 2016 by 89 Chemistry

To put things briefly, Saturday’s game will be either scrimmage or spoilage.

If Michigan wins at Ohio State, the 9-2 Nittany Lions will not be playing for the B1G East Division Title; they (and their fans) probably will be a little less fired up against the 3-8 Spartans, and MSU will be able to affect nothing more than a smidgen of PSU’s bowl-positioning stock.   But a Buckeye win will ignite PSU fans’ passions—and give MSU the fringe benefit of ruining, in person, the heady dreams of over 100,000 Pennsylvanians along with a signature win and the retention of the Land Grant Trophy if it wins.

To win, MSU will need more explosive runs from LJ Scott—who has gained 599 rushing yards at 6.3 yards per carry in the past five weeks—against a defense that has held opposing rushers to half their normal outputs in November.   It will need to contain an Oregon-style offense that uses several explosive receivers with the B1G’s best dual-threat quarterback (Trace McSorley, jersey #9) and rushing leader (Saquon Barkley, #26).   It will have to neutralize a highly disruptive front seven; foil proven kick blocking and punt blocking units; and minimize its own penalties.   It will probably need a lead of a touchdown or more at halftime—and after three quarters—to withstand PSU’s end-game tsunami.

The Report estimates MSU has a 20% shot at winning.   Median projection: PSU 32, MSU 21—give or take about a dozen points.

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The 2016 TUS Football Report: Ohio State Edition
Nov 18th, 2016 by 89 Chemistry

To put things briefly, even the worst Spartan team in a decade or two has a chance.

MSU is less of an underdog for tomorrow than it was when it beat the 1998 top-ranked Buckeyes.   It is true that OSU speaks of focusing solely on MSU—and revenge for 2015.   But few current Buckeyes were major contributors last year; retribution’s emotions are less keen for those that did not lose on the field.   And on a Spartan Senior Day featuring eight Ohio seniors and five other key Ohioans that were snubbed by Ohio State, MSU should fight with a vim.

MSU must be less predictable and avoid turnovers on offense.   The RU game was a step in that direction.

In principle, mismatches in explosiveness favor MSU.   On defense, MSU does not yield a lot of huge plays, and OSU is not a big-play offense—although H-back Curtis Samuel [jersey #4] will make it seem like one sometimes.   The OSU defense yields bigger plays than most do—and O’Connor certainly generates those.   But with Holmes—MSU’s most explosive back—questionable for this game, hitting big ground gains seems less likely.

OSU should be able to run or pass with equal success.   MSU should stack against the run, and OSU should counter with early-down passes.   How efficient JT Barrett [#16] is in passing will determine how much OSU scores.

But temperatures in the upper 30s, some mixed precipitation, and strong northwest winds will make a Spartan upset—or even a single-digit loss—significantly less likely.   Median projection: OSU 38, MSU 16.

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The 2016 TUS Football Report: Rutgers Edition
Nov 11th, 2016 by 89 Chemistry

To put things briefly, this may be MSU’s last chance to beat a weaker FBS team this year.

Notre Dame would like a rematch with the Spartans—and would have about the same chances of winning one as MSU’s are for victory over the Scarlet Knights.

To be sure, there is substantial uncertainty.   If all of last week’s injured Spartans remain injured, the odds would be close to 50%.   MSU is indicating, though, that Tyler O’Connor will play tomorrow—and the depth chart is not hedging on players like Kieler and McDowell.   (Vayante Copeland—who now has a broken foot—is unfortunately lost for the season.)   Dantonio held a set of meetings on team- and position-group scales this week, and player feedback has been positive.   And despite MSU’s ability to limbo beneath seven nominally inferior teams this year, a Rutgers without Janarion Grant is the lowest B1G bar of all.

Most of the time, at least.   RU did come back to nearly beat Minnesota three weeks ago, and had a 24-13 lead on Indiana at one time last week.   But the Knights seem to have several problems akin to MSU’s—including assignment gaffes; finishing drives; and finishing games.

The difference is that MSU has better special teams and a better offense than RU.  It also has players with higher ceilings than Rutgers.   This could be a sizeable blowout; at worst, MSU is highly unlikely to lose by more than a few points.   Median projection: MSU 33, RU 24.

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The 2016 TUS Football Report: Illinois Edition
Nov 4th, 2016 by 89 Chemistry

To put things briefly, the Spartans are visiting the weakest foe it has faced since Furman.

Auspices run high for the Spartans:
· Since losing in 1992, MSU has won in Champaign’s Memorial Stadium seven straight times.
· The two previous Dantonio visits resulted in the Spartans outscoring the Illini by 66 points to 17.
· The Illini now have lost five straight B1G home games (including, this year, to Purdue).

Furthermore, MSU might actually have some momentum after the Michigan loss: Tyler O’Connor and LJ Scott now have a line that blocked well against the Gulos, the defense contained a scoring juggernaut, and even special teams are functioning except when Dantonio interferes with them.

But this is not a normal Dantonio team. It remains prone to self-defeat and might have motivational problems.   “This week’s going to be tougher than ever to get everybody hyped up”, O’Connor admitted.   If MSU is hyped up, the Spartan could win in a blowout.

The Illini, too, are mistake-prone—and their strengths and weaknesses seem mismatched to those of MSU.   If wide receiver Malik Turner [jersey # 11] cannot play, Illinois’ offense will practically be run-only.   (Its backs are surprisingly good, however.)   If he and quarterback Wes Lunt [#12] are both healthy, the Illini will compete.   Their defensive linemen are unusually disruptive, but State should be able to both run and pass.

Expect the noon game (on ESPNews) to be bland until at least halftime.   MSU might lose by a touchdown—or win by two.   Median projection: MSU 31, UI 24.

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Bad To Worse: Brian Lewerke Breaks His Leg
Oct 30th, 2016 by Jeffrey Lubeck

BreakALeg.jpg (550×400)

In the theater arts the phrase “break a leg” is actually meant to be a wish for “good luck” to the recipient.  Evidently Brian Lewerke did not get the message and actually broke his leg during the game against the University of Michigan – just when you thought things could not get worse for the Spartans.

The history behind break a leg [here].

So… What is next?

The 2016 TUS Football Report: Michigan Edition
Oct 28th, 2016 by 89 Chemistry

To put things briefly: Things are very bad for these hapless, leaderless Spartans.   But not all bad.

Despite an expectation of 20+% maize and blue among Spartan Stadium spectators, Saturday will be the first game Gulo quarterback Wilton Speight [jersey #3] plays in a hostile atmosphere.   (Also, Michigan has not played on natural turf this year—and Air Jordans are not known for their grass-gripping cleats.)   Crosswinds of 10-20 mph will hinder the Gulo passing game—and thus prevent Michigan from running up the score as much as it otherwise would.

Michigan has, overall, exceeded its lofty popular expectations so far.   It has won its B1G games by an average score of 45-6.   It plays hard and gang-tackles. It controls time of possession and seldom allows takeaways, mostly because it runs twice as often as it passes—because it can.   There will be times that its lines impose upon MSU’s lines almost as Alabama’s would.   Running and passing on Michigan are both exceptionally difficult; its defense has some perimeter softness, but usually smothers such plays before they develop.   Its punt returners are scoring threats—particularly über-athlete Jabrill Peppers [#5].   Its players are strongly motivated to beat the Spartans.   And its coach is utterly ruthless.

The Report projects steady scoring by Michigan throughout the game.   A three-possession loss would be a moral victory; chances of a Spartan win are ~4%.   The midpoint projection is Gulos 40, Spartans 3; the Gulos might well score 30 or 60 (or more), but the Spartans will be lucky to score 10 points.

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Finger Pointing After 5 Losses—How Much Worse Can It Get??
Oct 24th, 2016 by Kindle

Michigan State Football: Spartan leadership has failed

See story below

by

When things start to bottom out, there will be no shortage of finger pointing to go around.  Thus is the case with Michigan State football.  The Spartans are coming off their fifth straight loss and a date with rival, and number two ranked, Michigan looms on Saturday.

If “fifth straight loss” sounds like something you don’t remember hearing about Michigan State lately, it’s because it isn’t.  Until now the longest losing streak under Mark Dantonio was three games, which happened twice in Dantonio’s first three years.  Since then the longest streak is two in a row.

It gets worse.  Neither John L. Smith nor Bobby Williams ever had a five game losing streak at Michigan State.  They had multiple four game losing streaks, including two four game skids in the same year for John L., but never five in a row.  For that we need to go back to 1991 when George Perles and company lost five straight to open the season in route to a 3-8 campaign.

Much like winning, a fall of this nature is a collaborative effort.  No one player or coach is to blame when things to this south, this fast.  Everyone is to blame in some way.  But for now I want to focus on one area where Michigan State has really failed this year, and that is leadership.

Leadership is a difficult thing to judge.  It’s not something that is quantifiable statistically, so you can’t just bring up the leadership statistics and say, “yep, there’s your problem right there!”  There are also different definitions of what leadership is depending on who you talk to.  Some believe leadership involves a “rah rah” speech at halftime or on the sidelines.  Some will tell you it’s more about leading by example.  Others will deny its existence or importance all together.

Tom Izzo puts a lot of stock into player leadership and its positive effects on a team, so I for one will tend to take his word for it when it comes to the mere existence and importance of team leadership.

For the Michigan State football team, their leadership has failed them in 2016, both on the field and on the sidelines.

One doesn’t need to look any further than Saturday’s game against Maryland to see how the on field leadership has failed.

In just a little over 10 minutes of action, fifth-year senior and captain of the defense, Riley Bullough amassed three personal foul penalties and was ejected for targeting.  After coming off a game where the Spartans defense was shredded by Northwestern, they lose the quarterback of their defense in the first quarter.

Riley Bullough was flying around early in the game, clearly trying to make something happen and playing with passion for a defense that badly needed some life infused into it after last weekend. But Bullough wasn’t playing in control and after getting called for a blatant late hit out of bounds and a roughing the passer call, he needed to be smarter. He wasn’t, and Michigan State lost arguably their most important defensive player for the rest of the game. MSU’s linebacking corps was already shorthanded due to a variety of injuries, losing Bullough only made matters worse. To pick up three personal foul penalties and get ejected in about 10 minutes of game time is completely unacceptable. When you factor in that Bullough is a fifth-year senior, and a captain, it makes it almost unconscionable.

Later in the game, there was more disastrous play from one of Michigan State’s captains.  This time it was fifth-year senior Demetrious Cox allowing D.J. Moore to run wide open for a 36-yard touchdown catch.  After the game Mark Dantonio said that Cox was in the wrong defense on the play.   A fifth-year senior captain not knowing which defensive scheme they are in?  That should not happen.

Michigan State’s other captain is quarterback Tyler O’Connor, who has been benched in multiple games this year, and eventually lost the starting role to red-shirt freshman Brian Lewerke.

Going back to Tom Izzo, the Hall of Fame coach likes to say that a team will only be as good as its seniors.  Looking through that lens at the football team and it’s no surprise that Michigan State is 2-5 right now.

The captains on the field have struggled to perform, and have not been able to rally their team when things take a turn for the worse.  If leadership is stepping up and making a play and leading by example, these three have not done that, and neither has anyone else.

Meanwhile, I don’t believe that the players should shoulder all the blame for the struggles of the Michigan State football team.  The players certainly are not making enough plays, but as I have said for a few weeks now, I don’t believe they are being put in a positon to succeed either.

The coaching staff has failed their leadership test as well, and judging by the way Dantonio sounded after the Maryland game, he knows it.  He also sounded like a guy who doesn’t have any answers to a problem he didn’t see coming.  Maybe that lack of foresight is part of the problem.  Maybe an unwavering confidence in the coaching staff’s ability to squeeze every last drop of talent out of even the most mediocre players led them here.  Whatever the reason, the coaching staff is certainly culpable in this mess.

I, along with many others, have taken issue with the offensive play calling.  But that isn’t the only issue.  The team consistently looks confused before and during plays.  How many times have a quarterback and running back run into each other in the backfield this year?  Penalties have been piling up at an alarming rate, the calling card of an undisciplined team.  Special teams play has been a nightmare for a second straight year.  The defense, even when starting out the game well, withers in the second half.

And Dantonio isn’t free of criticism either.  The call to run a fake field goal at the end of the first half against Maryland was one of the most bizarre and awful calls I have ever seen.  It was completely illogical and had almost no chance to succeed even in the best of circumstances.  For Dantonio to try something like that tells me that he is completely at a loss for what to do with this team.  For whatever reason, they just aren’t responding.

Top to bottom the 2016 Michigan State football team’s leadership has failed, and no one has stepped up to fill that gap.  On Saturday Michigan will bring its undefeated record and number two ranking to East Lansing, with revenge for last year’s stunning loss on their mind.  If ever there was a week for the Spartans to circle the wagons and find a spark, this is the week.  I just don’t see it happening.  Most MSU fans are resigned to their team’s fate this weekend, the only question is whether the team feels the same way.  We will have to wait until Saturday to see.

 

 

 

Northwestern Film Room–Autopsy of MSU’s 4th Loss
Oct 18th, 2016 by Kindle

For the sake of a new post after the lengthy absence of our precious TUS site I offer Matt Hoeppner’s break down of the debacle that was MSU’s 4th straight loss:

 It is second down and 11 from the Northwestern 16-yard line. Michigan State goes shotgun with one back in the backfield and two wide receivers up top. Price (circled) is off the line next to the other MSU tight end Lyles.

It is second down and 11 from the Northwestern 16-yard line. Michigan State goes shotgun with one back in the backfield and two wide receivers up top. Price (circled) is off the line next to the other MSU tight end Lyles.

 

They fake the hand-off to the running back going right, hoping to freeze the defenders on that side of the field. Meanwhile, Lyles releases off the line and heads up field alongside Price.

They fake the hand-off to the running back going right, hoping to freeze the defenders on that side of the field. Meanwhile, Lyles releases off the line and heads up field alongside Price.

 

The play action works enough to get Price and Lyles headed up-field at full speed while a few of the defenders are flat footed. The two tight ends are going to go in opposite directions, with Price running the post route and Lyles headed to the corner. Meanwhile Lewerke has a perfect pocket to operate in.

The play action works enough to get Price and Lyles headed up-field at full speed while a few of the defenders are flat footed. The two tight ends are going to go in opposite directions, with Price running the post route and Lyles headed to the corner. Meanwhile Lewerke has a perfect pocket to operate in.

 

Lewerke delivers a perfect touch pass to Price, who has the step he needs to make the catch for the touchdown. This is very similar to a play we broke down from the Furman game where Tyler O’Connor had a wide open Lyles for a touchdown. In this case the coverage wasn’t bad by Northwestern, but the throw was right where it needed to be and Price has just enough size and speed to make it work. Full play here.

Lewerke delivers a perfect touch pass to Price, who has the step he needs to make the catch for the touchdown. This is very similar to a play we broke down from the Furman game where Tyler O’Connor had a wide open Lyles for a touchdown. In this case the coverage wasn’t bad by Northwestern, but the throw was right where it needed to be and Price has just enough size and speed to make it work. Full play here.

Now for the play that basically ended the game for Michigan State.  After closing the gap back down to two points, Solomon Vault took the ensuing kickoff 95 yards to the house.

This is from right when Vault picks up the ball at the five-yard line. Looking at the circled area we can see that things are already in bad shape for Michigan State. That is a huge gap for Vault to aim for with two Spartans down on the ground in that lane and blockers in place to take care of the next two closest pursuers.

This is from right when Vault picks up the ball at the five-yard line. Looking at the circled area we can see that things are already in bad shape for Michigan State. That is a huge gap for Vault to aim for with two Spartans down on the ground in that lane and blockers in place to take care of the next two closest pursuers.

 

Vault gets to the hole shown above as the MSU players on the left sideline run right past him. Vault now has that entire lane wide open up the sideline and wisely cuts back and heads to the open field. Dowell is in trouble as one of the last men back getting pushed down by a pair of Wildcats. The kicker Cronin (99) has the most open shot at Vault.

Vault gets to the hole shown above as the MSU players on the left sideline run right past him. Vault now has that entire lane wide open up the sideline and wisely cuts back and heads to the open field. Dowell is in trouble as one of the last men back getting pushed down by a pair of Wildcats. The kicker Cronin (99) has the most open shot at Vault.

 

Cronin takes a less than stellar route to Vault and is only able to slow him up slightly. Meanwhile Dowell (5) is still being tied up by a blocker. Vault then cuts back towards the middle of the field and can angle all the way to the opposite side, which is exactly what he does. Dowell attempts to track him down but never comes within 10 yards of Vault. Full play here.

Cronin takes a less than stellar route to Vault and is only able to slow him up slightly. Meanwhile Dowell (5) is still being tied up by a blocker. Vault then cuts back towards the middle of the field and can angle all the way to the opposite side, which is exactly what he does. Dowell attempts to track him down but never comes within 10 yards of Vault. Full play here.

 

And now for the play that sent many a fan to the exits, and probably resulted in a thrown remote or two from Michigan State fans watching at home.

 

It's third-and-nine from the Michigan State 26-yard line. The Spartans are badly in need of a stop to attempt to hold Northwestern to a long FG attempt and keep the game within reach. Northwestern is in the shotgun with Justin Jackson in the backfield. They start with four wide but bring the tight end on the right side back into the formation. He will then crash down to the opposite side of the formation and seal off MSU linebacker Ed Davis (yellow circle). Meanwhile the left tackle and the right guard are going to push up-field and seal off the other two Michigan State linebackers.

It’s third-and-nine from the Michigan State 26-yard line. The Spartans are badly in need of a stop to attempt to hold Northwestern to a long FG attempt and keep the game within reach. Northwestern is in the shotgun with Justin Jackson in the backfield. They start with four wide but bring the tight end on the right side back into the formation. He will then crash down to the opposite side of the formation and seal off MSU linebacker Ed Davis (yellow circle). Meanwhile the left tackle and the right guard are going to push up-field and seal off the other two Michigan State linebackers.

 

Jackson is hitting the hole at the line here (purple) and we see our color coded blocks from before in action. Davis is on the ground at the line (yellow) and the other two LB’s are either sealed off or about to be (red). The safety Willis (green) is now the last real chance…

Jackson is hitting the hole at the line here (purple) and we see our color coded blocks from before in action. Davis is on the ground at the line (yellow) and the other two LB’s are either sealed off or about to be (red). The safety Willis (green) is now the last real chance…

 

But Willis takes a bad angle, gets caught up by the blocker tacking out the linebacker, and Jackson bounces it back outside right past him and to the endzone for six…untouched by a Michigan State defender on the play. On third and nine. When you need a stop to stay in the game. The full vomit inducing play here.

But Willis takes a bad angle, gets caught up by the blocker tacking out the linebacker, and Jackson bounces it back outside right past him and to the endzone for six…untouched by a Michigan State defender on the play. On third and nine. When you need a stop to stay in the game. The full vomit inducing play HERE.

Over-pursuit, bad angles, and poor tackling cost Michigan State time and time again in this game.  It is just not something you expect from a Mark Dantonio defense.  But that’s what happened on Saturday.

That is all I can stomach for this week.  Maryland is up next for the Spartans under the lights in College Park.

 

 

 

 

 

To Successfully Train a Horse, One Must Be Smarter Than the Horse.
Oct 11th, 2016 by 79 Spartan

horse-drawn-plow

(The Corollary – You Can Lead a Horse To Water, But You Can’t Make It Drink.)

            There is a lot to be said about the 2016 Spartans, and many people opining about the issues facing a 2-3, three losses in a row Mark Dantonio team. And since everyone from talking-head pundits to the corner bartender to Auntie Em have provided their solution, I thought I would chime in with a thought about it as well.

            While Coach D has said every aspect of the program is on the table, to me that is more about cover talk so as to not put the heat on any particular coach. Yes, there is a need to review all pieces to this puzzling start, but personally, I don’t see the need to make a broad-based program alteration. So I will concentrate on the area that seems the most obvious place to start. No, I am not examining the QB. It’s more about the horses. Allow me to give you a little history lesson before proceeding.

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With Temporary Insanity Over – What Next?
Oct 9th, 2016 by Jeffrey Lubeck

insanity

The best and brightest have defined insanity.  That definition seems to embody the execution plan (e.g., a off tackle running play) employed by the Spartan coaching braintrust in yesterday’s game for MSU football.

For the most part, Spartan football players could not execute at any-level and the coaching staff was unwilling (or incapable) of establishing the need for any type of material adjustment to the plan.

I would say that Mark Dantonio’s post-game comment of “Gotta look at everything we do,” suggests MSU Football can claim temporary insanity as it defense for yesterday’s complete humiliation at the hands of the BYU Cougars.  MSU was run-over by BYU, offered a hand by gracious sportsmanlike Cougars, only to be run-over again on the ensuing snap from the line of scrimmage.  The young BYU squad is only 3-3 on the season, however they are a total of 7 points away from being 6-0.  Their matchup against SEC Mississippi State will provide a better measure of the Cougars mettle than the MSU outcome.  Who could have honestly made that observation in August?

MSU Football has lived at the upper echelon of the B1G Conference and college football for many, many years.  And even with so many player-personnel questions for 2016, who – with the exception of Eyeore – could have seriously believed that MSU would be this inept.  Not me!  Most of TUS membership – even the “Brian Lewerke is the starting QB before seasons end” predicting Eyeore – discussed the possibility, even likelihood of a downturn resulting in 8-4 or 7-5 2016 season for MSU.  If I recall The Pre-season Report by 89 hinted that with a few bad-turns a 7-5 season was possible. The chances of a 2-10, 3-9, 4-8 outcome were deemed as virtually impossible for a MD team.

There are seven games remaining in the 2016 regular season for MSU.  So I ask TUS Membership, what say you?

Important Facts to Know

Albert Einstein was heavily recruited by Henry Keep in 1896 to play varsity football in America starting in 1897. MSU then known MAC (named after MAC’s Bar & Grill in Lansing) played in the MIAA league.  Einstein was a two-way football star* and four-year letterman for Munich’s Lutipold Gymnasium. Albert was known to the sports-media, recruiting experts, fans, and, Lee Corso as “the speed of light.” Albert declined the advances of the Aggies and attended Zürich Polytechnic stating “three-yards and a cloud of dust may be the cats-pajamas in the midwestern United States, but they are 23-skidoo for me, so I am seeking something like, you know, basically, I mean, something like 186,000 miles per-second and a cosmic cloud of dust and Zürich Polytechnic is where I’m taking my skivvies and Girl Friday.”

One of Einstein’s first big published works “Folgerungen aus den Capillaritätserscheinungen” was originally to be titled “The advantages of the repeated use of the run game – no matter what.”  However the Tressel Foundation claimed the title was of their copyright and could not be used by a guy who had earlier advocated for the West Coast Offense.

* Rated ESPN Top 100 (#26), MAXKrautPreps (#17) MonarchyRivals (#19).

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