Thursday, September 15, 2005

Spank Sparty | by Jay

News and views from South Bend to East Lansing...

Rhema's out for the MSU game, but you probably knew that already, as it made not only the Trib(s), but also the sports ticker on ESPN News yesterday.

Psy-Ops... John-El, taking us lightly? Perhaps. Or maybe he's just trying to take the edge off of a tough road game for the Spartans. He and Charlie have fundamentally different psych jobs this week: while Charlie's gotta pump up the Spartans, JLS has to dispel the mystique of the Dome. In the end, it dovetails nicely: the multilateral, bipartisan soundbite out of both camps: "Michigan State can beat Notre Dame."

...and Gamesmanship. Superman's lesser cousin continues to hem and haw about suspended running back Jason Teague's availability. Said JLS on Monday, "There's a chance he'll play..." (We'll chalk that up as a Yes.)

• Jersey papers are taking Weis' early success and somehow turning it into a slam on Rutgers' athletic department. Fuhgeddaboutit.

Sir Darean Adams gets a nomination for the ND opponents All-Moniker Squad. Currently on the list: LaRod Stephens (Pitt), Keston Cheathem (Michigan), Obi Oluigbo (Michigan), and B.J. Opong-Owusu (Michigan)., diagnosed schizophrenic, predicting a Spartan win here and an Irish win here.

• Wolverines throw trash, while Spartans rescue puppies. Here's a heartwarming story.

• Also, if you don't have it bookmarked already, be sure to check out bare down, where Bill does a great job of highlighting Irish news items every day in his "Quick Hits" postings.

Five questions I need answered:

Have the Spartans really won four straight at ND stadium, and haven't lost here since 1993? Come on. That can't be right.

Sadly, it's true. The last ND team to beat the Spartans at home was coached by Lou Holtz. 1993 was also the last time that Holtz faced MSU at home as Notre Dame did not play Michigan State in 1995 (or 1996). Davie was 0-3 against the Spartans at home (and 0-5 overall), Willingham 0-1 (2-1 overall).

The bad loss over this period (albeit, a road game): 1998, Davie goes down 42-3 by halftime, mounts a weak comeback, and falls 45-23. Shakespearean omen: ND was coming off an emotional win over Michigan that year, wherein ND was ranked #22 and Michigan #5.

How good is Drew Stanton?

He's pretty darn good, and outside of a certain Heisman Trophy winner, might be the best gunslinger we face all year. He's accurate (64% completion rate lifetime, 78% completion rate this year after two games) and as everyone's mentioned he's an excellent runner (718 yards and five touchdowns last year in only 10 games). And while he may be a tad injury-prone, he's also a tough, play-through-pain SOB (reminiscent of another Spartan of old).

We need to mention that a large part of Stanton's success thus far this year has been the establishment of a solid running attack, with a two-headed running back threat featuring Jehuu Caulcrick (#30, the big one) and freshman Javon Ringer (#39, the fast one). Mix in a conveniently-unsuspended Teague and Stanton's fleet feet and the Spartans have a Swiss Army knife for a running game.

So far the media coverage for State has focused on offense, offense, offense. Whom do we want to watch on the defense?

The aforementioned Sir Darean Adams (#27), for one. The sophomore "Bandit" linebacker (similar to our Apache) is leading the team in tackles right now and has a sack. Also keep an eye on defensive tackle Clifton Ryan (#92), a preseason All-Big 10 pick. He may not be be the best defensive end we'll face this year, but at 6'2, 302 he's definitely one of the biggest. Senior safety Eric Smith (#36) moved from linebacker, and is the acknowledged leader of the defense.

But there's a reason everyone's talking about Stanton and the O. The truth is, the MSU defense just isn't very good, and I don't predict good things for them. In fact, I penned a song about it.

Bravely bold Sir Darean
rode forth from East Lansing
When danger reared its ugly head,
he bravely turned his tail and fled.
Yes, brave Sir Darean turned about
And gallantly, he chickened out.
Bravest of the brave, Sir Darean.

State's played Kent State and Hawaii, both pretty terrible teams. Is there any way to tell how good they really are?

So far, not yet. Kent is just gawd-awful -- they gave up 685 yards of offense to MSU. Hawaii's not much better (499 yards given up). So it's been two cupcakes for the Spartans.

There is one benchmark of comparison, although I don't know how significant it is. Hawaii played Southern Cal, who I think we can all agree is a juggernaut. Let's put the Hawaii games for MSU & Southern Cal side by side:

vs. Hawaii...

gave up
rush O
pass O
total O
rush D
pass D
total D

Conclusion? Inconclusive. Both teams racked up a lot of yards against a weak defense, but it's hard to draw any solid lines between USC and Michigan State (although the fact that the Trojans gave up more yards than the Spartans makes you go hmm...)

Finally, where does Sparty fit in in the pantheon of Humanoid-esque Mascots?

First, a definition via EDSBS, from their series on Pepidemiology:
The Humanoidesque is the second type [of mascot], clad in a body suit and oversized headpiece designed to resemble the icon from which the team’s name is derived. Examples include the Virginia Cavalier, Wake Forest’s Demon Deacon, the Nebraska Cornhusker, and Pistol Pete from Oklahoma State. Humanoidesque mascots spend most of their games waving their hands frantically, pumping their fists, and scaring the living bejeezus out of small children around the stadium with their maniacal grins, huge plastic teeth, bizarre outfits, and sinister, fixed glares. Like animal mascots, are susceptible to quiet death by heat stroke and blindside assault from angry fans.
I sort of like Sparty, even though he's definitely hooked up with BALCO in the past (and even if he's stalking Marco.) He's got that puzzled grin and those puppy dog eyes; he's just a big, lovable brickhead (in a skirt). Despite all the muscles, he wouldn't harm a fly.

So I'm gonna slot Sparty pretty high, somewhere after the Demon Deacon, and ahead of the UVA Cavalier, the Nebraska Cornhusker, Pistol Pete, and Lee Corso.