So it has come to this for the football team. We could have avoided needing a virtual miracle this Saturday for a bowl bid if we had only taken care of business against Toledo. Instead, we must upset the Spartans in East Lansing, then win the staring contest of our terrible offense against Indiana's non-existent defense. Needless to say, I am not encouraged.
The Spartans have had two weeks off to prepare for us. Our offense was essentially outscored by our defense in our last game, converting only three field goals against a defense that had a 1-AA program running up and down the field against them. One of those field goal "drives" moved the ball one yard in four plays, so I credit those three points to the defense for forcing and recovering a fumble already in field goal range.
As bad as things seem, I am still going to support this team on Saturday. Like last year, we go into the Michigan State game absolutely needing a win to get to a bowl game. Our chances are small, but I have seen stranger things happen with this program.
2010 Record: 9-1, 5-1 Big Ten
2009 Record: 6-7, 4-4 Big Ten
Bowl Result: Lost Alamo Bowl to Texas Tech 41-31
Series with Purdue: Michigan State leads 31-28-3
Last Purdue win: 11/4/2006 at Michigan State 17-15
Last Michigan State win: 11/14/2009 at Purdue 40-37
Michigan State offense
The Spartans have gotten it done on offense this year, giving their solid defense more than enough to finish games off. They have posted at least 30 points in 8 of 10 games, and their only loss came as a result of the offense producing just eight points. There is some hope that we can win this game because it is not a highly explosive offense. It is one based more onconsistency than anything. Yes, they have scored over 30 in eight of 10 games, but they have been over 40 just once agaisnt 1-AA Northern Colorado.
Much of that consistency comes from Edwin Baker, who will likely pass the 1,000 yard milestone for the season against us. He's not overly flashy. He averages 6.5 yards per carry, and he just gets the job done with 11 touchdowns too. Le'Veon Bell is having a good season as his backup too, giving them two solid options to move the ball on the ground. We have played well defensively against good running games of late. Montee Ball had a big game, but for the most part every scoring drive of the past few weeks has been the result of a short field due to turnovers. Two of the eight touchdowns we have surrendered we defensive scores, while at least four have come as a result of turning the ball over in our own territory.
Kirk Cousins gives this offense balance, especially with the dangerous Keshawn Martin who can stretch the field. Martin killed us with big plays at Ross-Ade last year, so we must key on him. Mark Dell and B.J. Cunningham catch more passes, but Martin was the player we could not stop last season. We need to watch for him, especially on 3rd down slants over the middle. Charlie Gantt poses a similar danger in those situations.
One bonus is that the MSU ofensive line has given up 18 sacks on the season. D.J. Young and J'Michael Dean have the unenviable task of trying to stop Ryan Kerrigan from reeking havoc all day. Kerrigan needs 2.5 sacks to tie Rosevelt Colvin's career school record. He also needs one more forced fumble to stand alone as the Division I all-time leader. Is now the time that I reveal the secret cloning project going on under the engineering fountain? It would be nice to release an army of Kerrigans this weekend, but just one will have Cousins worried.
Michigan State Defense:
The Spartan defense features one of the few players that is in the discussion with Kerrigan for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Greg Jones is nearly as much of a force of nature as The Kerrigan. He has 87 tackles, eight tackles for loss, a sack, two interceptions, and three forced fumbles. His running mate Eric Gordon is also an excellent linebacker with a pair of sacks and 70 stops. They form the middle of a defense that gives up 18.8 points per game and little more than 300 yards.
There is no question that we need to limit our turnovers and find production from an offense that has been the direct cause of our last two losses. The defense has played well enough to win, but nine turnovers that have resulted in the bulk of our opponent's scoring has absolutely killed us. Unfortuantely, I don't see this being the week that everything suddenly clicks. If we couldn't move against an awful Michigan defense (and even Michigan fans admitted shock at this) I don't see how we will move this week.
This defense has created 19 sacks from 12 different players. Johnathan Strayhorn, Jerel Worthy, and Tyler Hoover each have at least three sacks. More importantly, this defense excels at creating turnovers and we excel at giving them up. The secondary has 14 interceptions on the season with Marcus Hyde, Trenton Robinson, and Johnny Adams each having three. They have also recovered seven fumbles on the year. This is with Chris L. Rucker, one of their better players, missing two games due to a suspension.
We have zero chance at winning if we turn the ball over like we have in the past several games. We must maintain ball security and make the passing game a threat. Our ebst chance is if Rob Henry can start and throw effectively. he has had the most success moving this offense this year. Sean Robinson has some promise, but he has been thrown into a very disadvantageous situation. Right now, these guys are our only two choices at quarterback unless we throw walk-on Skyler Titus out there. This defense is good, but they are not a brick wall. They can be scored upon, but we can't make the same mistakes we've been making.
Michgian State Special Teams:
This is an area where Keshawn Martin can be a huge difference. He is a dangerous threat on kick and punt returns, with a 74 yard punt return for a score to his credit already. Their coverage units are solid, but I fear what Martin could do if we kick to him.
Dan Conroy has been nearly automatic as a kicker with 50 yard range, so even the Blur of Carson Wiggs, Kris Staats, and John Finch has tough competition this week. Aaron Bates is one fo the league's best punters, averaging over 45 yards per kick.
We have a very tall order against us this week. Michigan State has its eyes on Pasadena or at least another BCS bowl. We were in a very similar position 10 years ago and they shocked us when the roles were basically the reverse of what they are now. As much as I would like to return the favor, I don't see it happening.
We simply don't have any offensive weapons right now and the gameplanning where we switch quarterbacks every few plays is not a recipe for success. We need to pick one guy, Henry or Robinson, and stick with him. Henry needs to be on the field if we pick Robinson, either as a reciver or running back. Outside of Henry, the running game did nothing last week. Al-Terek McBurse is prving to be more of a disappointment each week. Dan Dierking tries hard, but you don't have a lot of success when Dan Dierking is your best running back. Keith Carlos, Jared Crank, and Reggie Pegram haven't been given a lot of carries. At receiver we're officially missing our three best players. That leaves Antavian Edison, Gary Bush, and a whole lot of nothing.
As much as I want to a bowl game, even if it is a trip to Detroit, I don't think it is going to happen. We desperately need the extra practices for the development of the offense, but the guys we have out there don't seem to be growing. This has me down for next year already, when we get an influx of talent from those who are injured and their returns. Yes, they'll be back and we'll have depth with game experience, but that depth doesn't appear to be progressing. Our offense has only produced 18 touchdowns in 10 games. That was a good four week stretch as recently as three years ago. ur passing game has 8 touchdowns against 14 picks. Our leading receiver has 287 yards in 10 games, when I have seen a receiver go for over 300 yards in a single game. Keith Smith still ranks 4th on the team in receptions for crying out loud, and he played two games.
Even if our defense plays an absolutely perfect game, somethign they are even approaching because I would argue last week's effort against that specific offense was very good, I don't trust our offense to get out of its way.