Friday, September 19, 2008

Through the Ringer | by Jay

Tomorrow's forecast for East Lansing: partly cloudy, 78 degrees, with a 100% chance of Javon Ringer. His stats are tremendous: third in the nation in rushing (166 yards per game), averaging 4.79 yards per carry, and reigning as the national scoring leader (for all positions) with 9, count 'em 9 touchdowns in three games. All in all, very impressive.

But let's take a look at Sparty's opposition. One of these things is not like the other.

  • L 31-38 vs Cal (2-1)
  • W 42-10 vs Eastern Michigan (1-2, sole win over Indiana State)
  • W 17-0 vs Florida Atlantic (1-2, sole win over UAB)
Furthermore, let's look at Ringer's production in each game:

Javon Ringer, 2008
vs Cal
27 813.00
vs Eastern Michigan
34 1353.97
vs Florida Atlantic
43 2826.55

That game against Cal sticks out like a sore thumb: Ringer racked up most of his yards against two terrible opponents, while the third, halfway decent one more or less corralled him.

But let's temper our enthusiasm for the moment, and ride the seesaw back down. Ringer's been a Spartan fixture going back to 2005, and looking at his career production he's put up 5.85 yards per carry. Moreover, against Notre Dame over the past three years he's rushed 44 times for 244 yards (5.55 ypc). To take the Cal game out of context and say, "Hell, we can stop him just like they did" would be a poor assumption.

Ringer is obviously the key to Sparty's offense, which is more of a traditional, power running scheme, as opposed to the two spread variations we've seen in the first two games. As we finally face a more traditional offense, this should be a great test of our new 'stop the run first' defensive mentality. Ringer plays big on first down (5.85 yards per carry). Something has to give. And going from Charlie's presser, it sounds like we're moving some defensive pieces around for this game (which might actually start to resemble the preseason depth chart). Big-bodied Ian Williams will play more in the middle, with Kuntz shifting over. We'll probably see some more Harrison Smith (and perhaps Scott Smith), and less Sergio Brown in the (so far) ubiquitous nickel.

Michigan State hasn't demonstrated a competent passing attack so far this year. QB Brian Hoyer has thrown only 1 touchdown and 2 INTs with a 44% completion rate. Against Cal he chucked it 48 times (completing just 20) in a game where they trailed the entire way, but he only threw it 12 times in the EMU blowout and 15 against FAU (in a monsoon). A few articles mentioned some egregious drops by State receivers, and that might help explain Hoyer's crummy completion numbers, but I think it's safe to say the Sparty passing game isn't terribly powerful at this point. If beefing up on the run starts to work, and we can win the battle of first down to force them into more passing -- again, more of a dropback scheme rather than spread passing -- will we start to notch some more sacks?

A few more various and sundry notes...

• Michigan State has fast linebackers, and slow-developing plays aren't likely to be effective against them. Greg Jones in particular is impressive. He's basically their Brian Smith, a sophomore playmaker that they move all over.

• Michigan had good corners but weak safeties. MSU is the other way around. What to do? Will we attack them through the air? Will we see more out routes, and more of the tight end in the passing game? The Spartan safeties have shown themselves to be very aggressive against the run. FAU obviously scouted this, and nearly scored on a wide-open flea flicker (if the QB had thrown it just a bit further, it was an easy six.) Maybe Charlie and Haywood will gift-wrap something similarly devious for State.

• Michael caught part of the MSU-FAU game, and notes that State will rush Ringer mostly up the gut, but also off tackle, and around the end. There's a toss play that features pulling guards -- a strategy that gave us all kinds of fits last year (especially against Georgia Tech). Tomorrow could really tell us a lot about how (and if) our defense has improved.

• Finally, and not to be overlooked: State is always a tough road environment, but because it is an afternoon game instead of at night (as many of our recent games at East Lansing have been) the crowd should be less inebriated, and therefore decidedly less hostile. I swear '06 was one of the most virulently anti-ND crowds I've ever witnessed, largely due to the fact that kickoff wasn't until 8pm and everyone was absolutely hammered. When the rains came, the mood got even pissier.

But we all know what happened in the end. 2006 Michigan State will always be one of the most remarkable games I've ever witnessed.