Saturday, September 19, 2015

Post game thoughts and opinions after MSU's win over Air Force

Nobody said the game would be easy, and it certainly wasn't, but Michigan State withstood a tough, resilient Air Force team 35-21.

Overall, it was a good game for the Spartan defense. The Air Force triple option was a tricky as advertised, and the preponderance of cut blocking (some flagged as chop blocks) must have gotten to the Spartans. as MSU game up a good chunk of yards on the ground. For the most part, all those yards didn't translate into points--at least not enough points to lead to victory.

The one disappointment was that at least twice, Air Force receivers were able to slip behind MSU's defensive backs for huge pass completions, one of which went for a touchdown. However, it must be mentioned that MSU was missing the player whom I consider to be their best defensive back, Vayante Copeland.

I was surprised that MSU struggled so much to effectively run the ball (42 carries for only 77 yards). Brian Griese, who is one of the better color commentators working in broadcasting, pointed out that Air Force was showing the MSU offensive line different looks that were causing disruptions in the running game. It looked like Air Force had committed to stop the run, and they kept that game plan all game long, though  I still expected the Spartans to wear down Air Force's defensive line and linebackers, but that never happened.

It also seemed to me that MSU's running plays were quite vanilla. Maybe this was by design: not wanting to show their hand too much to Big Ten opponents. In any case, the preponderance of off tackle running plays were similar to what the Spartans did against Western Michigan. Credit to Air Force for stuffing MSU's run better than any opponent the Spartans have faced this season, though I am interested to hear if the Mark Dantonio addresses MSU's running woes in this game.

In my admittedly amateur opinion, it appeared that Air Force was determined not to allow the Spartans to run the ball, allowing plenty of opportunities in the passing game. Aaron Burbridge made the Falcons pay. In what was definitely a breakout game for Burbridge, he made acrobatic, athletic catches that reminded me of recent MSU Athletics Hall of Fame inductee Andre Rison. Burbridge finished with 8 catches for 156 yards and three touchdowns.

The good news is MSU won the game and, as far as I can tell, did not suffer any injuries. Perhaps of greatest concern from a personnel standpoint is that Riley Bullough was disqualified in the fourth quarter after a targeting personal foul. He may miss the first half of next week's game against Central Michigan.

One parting shot: I need to stop reading the various Michigan State Facebook pages even after a Spartan win. This fan base is entering the territory of "spoiled." Rarely have I seen a group of people complain so vociferously after a victory.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Michigan State versus service academies

Tomorrow, Michigan State plays Air Force for the first time ever.

A few days ago, I got a little bored--as sometimes happens--and decided to research Michigan State football's history of playing military service academies. As it turns out, MSU has only played two games against any of the three major American academies (United States Military Academy, aka "Army"; United States Naval Academy, aka "Navy"; and United States Air Force Academy,  aka "Air Force"). Both of Michigan State's games were against Army, and they were both losses. The first was a 20-7 loss to the Cadets at West Point's Michie Stadium in 1931, and the second was a turnover-plagued 10-6 loss in the 1984 Cherry Bowl.

So then I decided to take the inquiry a little further. How many other games has Michigan State played against any military-related institution? The answer, as near as I can tell, is five. Here they are:

The first took place in 1908, when Michigan State (then known as Michigan Agricultural College) defeated the Saginaw Naval Brigade by a score of 30-6.

The following season (1909), M.A.C. took on Culver Military Academy, a military prep school in Culver, Indiana. The Aggies shutout the high school age Culver boys 29-0.

In 1917, as the nation fought World War I, the M.A.C. Aggies were soundly defeated 20-0 at home by a team from Camp MacArthur of Waco, Texas.

During World War II, Michigan State played two games against teams from the Great Lakes Navy training facility from Great Lakes, Illinois. The first game was in 1942 and the second in 1945, The Spartans won the first contest 14-0, but dropped the second 27-7.

So, Michigan State's overall record against any military-related institution is 3 wins and 4 losses. Here's hoping the Spartans can even it up with a win over the Air Force Falcons.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

My thoughts (or amateurish opinionated blathering) after watching the MSU/Oregon replay

I enjoy watching the Big Ten Network's replays of Michigan State football games because I always notice facets that I may have missed--due to nervousness, distractions, or adult beverages--when I watch the games live.

Montae Nicholson's stripped ball interception was beautiful. What a huge play early in the game.

Macgarrett Kings had a a great second effort after catching a pass, breaking a tackle and getting enough yardage for a first down and keeping a Spartan drive alive.

Vayante Copeland made one of the best and most important open field tackles I've seen when he brought down Royce Freeman in what was a touchdown-saving tackle. His absence late in the game was costly, and I'm concerned about his injury.

For all the yammering about MSU's perceived missed tackles, I noticed several that were extremely important. Riley Bullough had a huge tackle near the goal line that forced Oregon into a fourth down--a fourth down that the Spartan defense stuffed.

Tight end Josiah Price has a knack for making some big touchdown catches, He had one in this game, as well as another catch (after the goal line stand) that gave the Spartans a much needed first down.

Aaron Burbridge could be the next great Spartan receiver. He made an absolutely huge reception on 4th down and 6 that put the ball at the Oregon 6 yard line. L. J. Scott ran in for a touchdown one play later.

Madre London deserves as much credit for his outstanding pass blocking as for his ball carrying ability.

Connor Cook mainly had a good game, but for every time he threaded the needle, he also missed what looked like easier throws. He will need to tighten this up moving forward.

The Spartans may want to either hone the "cutesy" plays a little or eliminate some of them: for example the Damion Terry read-option play that killed momentum in the first quarter.

Chris Frey made what was probably the game's biggest play when he sacked Vernon Adams immediately after Adams missed the wide open receiver for what would have been a go-ahead touchdown for Oregon.

This really goes without saying, but MSU's special teams need to improve.

The Air Force Falcons are not to be overlooked (my two-bit analysis)

The Air Force Falcons run the triple option to perfection, and looking at their statistics over their first two games, they look awfully frightening. 394 yards rushing against Morgan State and 428 yards on the ground versus San Jose State. They have a quarterback in Nate Romine (UPDATE: out for the season with a knee injury) who is was able to run the ball (as any option quarterback should be able to do) and a plethora of other guys who are more than capable of carrying the rock, led by D.J. Johnson (a stocky, bruising running back) and Benton Washington.

Granted, the competition that Air Force has faced this season isn't exactly top-notch, but when a team racks up 822 yards rushing (6.2 yards per carry) in its first two games against anyone, that team deserves an opponent's undivided attention--and I know that MSU has been preparing for Air Force since at least the spring.

The good news for the Spartans is that the other Spartans (the San Jose State variety) were able to run the ball for 150 yards on 20 carries against Air Force. San Jose State was actually only behind 17-16 after the third quarter, but Air Force exploded for 20 points in the fourth quarter the put the game away. It's safe to say that the Spartans from East Lansing have a much better offensive line and rushing attack than the Spartans from San Jose, California. Michigan State should be able to move the ball with ease against Air Force and put plenty of points on the board.

Michigan State has to be, and I'm sure will be, wary heading into this game. They know Air Force is not to be taken lightly. Mark Dantonio has proven again and again that he and his staff are able to get the team up every week no matter the opponent, and I'm sure this week will be no different. I look for the Spartans to win this one by a score of 45-24.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The post-Oregon blog post

I think I've finally reached the point, perhaps for the first time in my life as a Michigan State football fan, that I now expect the Spartans to find a way to win big games. As much of a tense nail-biter as last night's 31-28 win over Oregon was--and who really expected it to be anything otherwise?--I didn't panic. Oh, sure, I thought for a few minutes that I might not be able to watch the pivotal 4th down play that determined the outcome of the game--but never did I expect the other shoe to fall, as I pretty much have since I started seriously following MSU football in 1977.  I wasn't stomping my feet, I wasn't cursing. I honestly thought that somehow, some way, the Spartans would find a way to win the game...and they did.

My knee-jerk, off-the-cuff reaction to the game was that it was far from a perfect game for the Spartans, yet they still beat the #7 team in the country. Yes, they gave up a lot of yards to Oregon's "basketball on turf" brand of football, but the Spartan defense made big plays when they had to (goal line stand in the first half, huge 3rd down sack late in the 4th quarter followed by the aforementioned 4th down incomplete pass) so most of the Ducks' yards were empty yards. About three quarters of Oregon's yards were through the air. The MSU defense wasn't allowing much of anything on the ground, so Oregon was forced to throw the ball a lot--and I'd much rather have it that way than the other way.

 So, as I write this on Sunday afternoon, I just discovered that the Spartans have risen to #4 in the rankings. Provided that MSU can remain focused and win all their remaining games until November, we will be looking at a monumental showdown in Columbus between the Spartans and the Buckeyes.

I watched most of ESPN GameDay yesterday. They were in East Lansing. I was extremely disappointed in GameDay. As far as I could tell (having not seen the entire show) there was exactly one feature about Michigan State, a brief live interview with Mark Dantonio. However, we were treated to the most sycophantic, fawning, and utterly nauseating feature about Jim Harbaugh that I have yet witnessed. It was so over-the-top that I swear the University of Michigan paid ESPN to run it. It had all the look of a commercial for Michigan football. As if MSU needed any more ammunition for the October 17 game against Saint Jimmy and the Wolverines, this could provide even a little more.