Friday, September 21, 2007

All the Way to State | by Jay

A little Spartan surveillance to get us warmed up...

• Defensive end Jonal Saint-Dic is the Spartan's best pass rusher. Saint-Dic — known as the "Sackmaster" by teammates — was named the Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Week after recording five tackles, three tackles for losses, two sacks and two forced fumbles against Pitt.

He's quick around the edge, eh? The stats bear it out: MSU is tops in the nation in sacks. ND leads the nation in sacks given up. Gulp.

State returns one OL starter from injury this week, but lost another against Pitt:
The potential return of a top offensive lineman and backup spots for two starting defensive backs are among the changes on Michigan State's depth chart for Saturday's game against Notre Dame.

Senior Mike Gyetvai, who hasn't been on the field since the sixth game of 2006, is listed as a starter at right guard along with junior Mike Bacon. Bacon replaced starting right guard Roland Martin, who suffered a leg injury in the first half against Pittsburgh and did not return. He was on crutches after the game. Martin does not appear on the current two-deep chart.

Head coach Mark Dantonio declined to discuss injuries on Monday, but senior left tackle Pete Clifford gave an unofficial update Tuesday.

"Roland's a little banged up, but he's working out and I think he'll be alright in a week or two," Clifford said. "Everyone else is pretty healthy."

Sophomore center Joel Nitchman, who injured his hand last Saturday but returned at the end of the game, is expected to play this weekend.

Mitch and Murray (aka McMillan & Wife) seem to be the two guys that most of the game previews are focusing upon, and the presumption is the Irish defense, which can't stop the run, is going to be bludgeoned to death by the two-headed Spartan ettin. The yards given up certainly aren't encouraging. But I had a sneaking suspicion our susceptibility to the run is a little overstated.

So I looked into it. My hypothesis was that the high yardage is a product of a general apathy that sets in as the game goes on, once the defense realizes the offense isn't going to be able to put up any points. Perusing the excellent breakdowns on, you can see how the rushing defense deteriorated as the games went on, and as the scoring deficit ballooned:

Irish Rushing Defense over Time
Situation Att Yards Avg.
Overall 150 712 4.75
1st Half 69 297 4.30
2nd Half 81 415 5.12
1st Quarter 32 110 3.44
2nd Quarter 37 187 5.05
3rd Quarter 35 180 5.14
4th Quarter 46 235 5.11
Irish Rushing Defense by Score
Situation Att Yards Avg.
Winning By 1-7 Pts 6 7 1.17
Tied 17 57 3.35
Losing By 1-7 Pts 27 92 3.41
Losing By 8-14 Pts 24 123 5.13
Losing By 15+ Pts 76 433 5.70

It would be nice for the defense if some of that early-game determination were rewarded. I wonder what the stats would look like were we playing ahead in a game, instead of constantly from behind.

Motivation? Sparty hasn't forgotten about last year.
Despite the fact that the Irish are winless and statistically rank among the nation's worst teams in nearly every offensive category, the Spartans weren't about to give Notre Dame any ammunition.

"They might be 0-3, but to me, that's Notre Dame," Saint-Dic said. "We're going there with the mindset that they're 3-0."

Over the past two years, both Michigan State and Notre Dame have felt the elation of a dramatic win and the anguish of a crushing loss.

In 2005, the Spartans beat the Irish 44-41 in overtime. Last year, Notre Dame rallied to a 40-37 win, after trailing by 16 points entering the fourth quarter.

"It was a pretty big contrast," Hoyer said. "That was one of the top wins I've ever had here at Michigan State and one of the lowest losses that we've had."

The Spartans appeared to be on their way to another 4-0 start last season before the a late-game meltdown against the Irish. That loss started Michigan State on a slide in which the team lost eight of its last nine games of the season.

Hoyer said last year's game will provide both motivation and education this week.

"There's a lot of guys here this year that were there last year," Hoyer said. "The way I see it, we've learned from that situation. The main thing you can take from that is not giving up."
Meet the new Sparty, care of coach D: no trash-talking, no more meltdowns?
MSU coach Mark Dantonio tried to eliminate any bulletin-board material by making quarterback Brian Hoyer, defensive end Jonal Saint -Dic and captains Thornhill, Travis Key , Jehuu Caulcrick and Pete Clifford available to the media this week.

The Spartans have had a tendency to get drawn into some trash-talking in the media before big games in the past.

"That's something we have to learn from," Caulcrick said. "That's just a step in us maturing as a team.

"You've got to be above that. We know when it comes down to it, what we do on the field is going to win the game, not what's said in the media."
(Of course, the quickest and easiest way for MSU to clean up its act was to lose guys like Johnelle, and his toadies, like Matt Trannon).

Dantonio was actually known as a fire-and-brimstone kind of guy at Cincinnati, so you know he's pepping the guys up, even if the public front is rather placid.
University of Cincinnati football players have noticed a real contrast between first-year coach Brian Kelly and former coach Mark Dantonio, who is now coach at Michigan State.

In brief, Dantonio, who was a defensive coordinator under Jim Tressel at Ohio State, talked frequently about playing with "great emotion" and made it a key part of his weekly preparation. Kelly is more businesslike and conducts practice at a rapid pace with almost all of the emphasis on preparation for that week's opponents' strengths.

"It's real different," UC defensive end Anthony Hoke told The Cincinnati Enquirer. "Dantonio, he tried to make every game personal."

It's all a matter of style, of course.

"We've tried to move away from being emotional as possible," Kelly said.

Both teams are 3-0, so it's hard to quibble with either methodology.