Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Michigan State favored by 31 1/2 over Jax State

Michigan State opens as a 31-1/2 point favorite over FCS opponent Jacksonville State next Friday (August 29).  Here are the odds across all the Big Ten for the opening week:

8-28, 10 pm,  Rutgers at Washington State (-8)
8-28, 7 pm, Eastern Illinois at Minnesota (-15 1/2)
8-29, 7 pm, Jacksonville St at Michigan State (-31 1/2)
8-30, 8:30 am, Penn State at Central Florida (-1)
8-30, 12 pm, Appalachian State at Michigan (-34)
8-30, 12 pm, Western Michigan at Purdue (-12 1/2)
8-30, 12 pm, Ohio State (-19) at Navy
8-30, 3:30 pm, Cal at Northwestern (-11)
8-30, 3:30 pm, Florida Atlantic at Nebraska (-23 1/2)
8-30, 9 pm, Louisiana State (-4 1/2) at Wisconsin
8-30, 12 pm, Youngstown State at Illinois (-10 1/2)
8-30, 12 pm, Indiana State at Indiana (-23 1/2)
8-30, 12 pm, Northern Iowa at Iowa (-16 1/2)

8:30, 3:30 pm, James Madison at Maryland (-21 1/2)

About Braxton Miller 

OK, so it takes one day for the ES to chime in on the Big Green getting second-fiddle in the Big Ten... and then, Ohio State's star player is determined to be injured and out for the season.  Suddenly, Michigan State becomes the leading contender for the Big Ten title.

MSU would have won the Big Ten title (with the Buckeyes playing in East Lansing) with or without Braxton Miller on the field for OSU.  However, it now becomes a lot easier for the Spartans.  Miller  was the most significant threat against Michigan State the past two years - including the major playmaker in the Big Ten title game (which MSU won by double digits, anyways).  The Buckeyes always reload, but Miller was their silver bullet.  

Expect the odds to the National Title game to shift significantly.  Before the Miller injury, Ohio State was a 10-1 favorite, with Michigan State 35-1.   The ES figures Michigan State will move up to about 25-1, and Ohio State will drop to 30-1 or 40-1.


Sunday, August 17, 2014

MSU at #8 entering 2014 season...

Well, the ES has been traveling the globe the past four months, thus sans posting on the Big Green Machine... but shall return just in time for the gridiron season!

Look for the annual ES preview next week, just in time for opening kickoff.  That said, it's been nice to live on big, fluffy, green clouds as I don the Green and White and gush in Spartan successes to fellow alums in Paris, London, and Italy.

Love the love that Michigan State and Mark Dantonio are receiving nationally, especially from the Big Ten Network (here and here).  However, it's GREAT that other numb-nuts still doubt MSU, and continue to have the Spartans play second-fiddle to Urban Meyer and his Ohio State Buckeyes, even though the Green dominated Ohio and the rest of the Big Ten last year en route to the best Big Ten season by any school since 2003.  Once again - we got 'em right where we want 'em.

Here's the AP Poll released today.  #8?  I'll take it.... and watch us move up all season long.  The ES is jonesing for more roses...   :)

Go GREEN!
AP Rankings
Rankings as of 8/17/2014
RankSchoolVotesPrev Rank
1Florida State (0-0)1496 (57)NR
2Alabama (0-0)1361 (1)NR
3Oregon (0-0)1334 (1)NR
4Oklahoma (0-0)1324 (1)NR
5Ohio State (0-0)1207NR
6Auburn (0-0)1198NR
7UCLA (0-0)1106NR
8Michigan State (0-0)1080NR
9South Carolina (0-0)1015NR
10Baylor (0-0)966NR
11Stanford (0-0)885NR
12Georgia (0-0)843NR
13LSU (0-0)776NR
14Wisconsin (0-0)637NR
15USC (0-0)626NR
16Clemson (0-0)536NR
17Notre Dame (0-0)445NR
18Ole Miss (0-0)424NR
19Arizona State (0-0)357NR
20Kansas State (0-0)242NR
21Texas A&M (0-0)238NR
22Nebraska (0-0)226NR
23North Carolina (0-0)194NR
24Missouri (0-0)134NR
25Washington (0-0)130NR
Others: UCF (94) , Florida (87) , Texas (86) , Duke (71) , Iowa (68) , Louisville (48) , Marshall (41) , Oklahoma State (37) , Virginia Tech (26) , TCU (23) , Mississippi State (22) , Michigan (19) , Texas Tech (19) , Miami (FL) (16) , Cincinnati (15) , Oregon State (10) , Boise State (10) , Northwestern (8) , BYU (8) , Penn State (5) , Vanderbilt (2) , Navy (2) , Nevada (1) , Louisiana (1) , Utah State (1)

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Spring Game 2014: The Beauty of Defense

The ES wuz at the Peanut Barrel, chugging few beers with Big Bob et al, and sitting next to BTN (formerly WLNS-TV 6) Lisa Byington... just gushing about the talent seen at the Spartan Green and White game... Wow.

A few thoughts: OK, a few poor throws by Connor Cook (and Tyler O'Connor), but the other side  would be a few great throws, particularly the beautiful TD pass from O'Connor to a stretching Keith Mumphery in the end zone, and the very very nice reads by Cook to both WR Aaron Burbridge and TE Josiah Price.  Just real, real nice plays.  Backup QB Damien Terry gave the crowd a scare with a bruised shoulder after being slammed into the turf, but he showed he has nice wheels and good athletic ability. The ES enjoyed the play of Tony Lippett  today - 7 catches for 93 yards - keeping up his improved play from last year.  Wow.

More impressively today was just the look by the MSU defense. Some great plays by Darian Hicks (CB, #2, 5-10, 181-lbs), as well as on the DL by  Shilique Calhoun (#89), and Damon Knox (#93).  Kurtis Drummond (#27) had some great plays in the defensive backfield as well as Ezra Robinson (#37).  The defensive backfield looks very strong, surprisingly; and the interior line looks brutal - add Lawrence Thomas (#8) and the interior looks arguably STRONGER than last year - just 132 yards rushing between the two sides in this Spring game on 39 carries.  Ugh, that is truly beautiful.

Check out the video of my walk up to the stadium below, as well as some photos.  Temperature was about 57 degrees and sunny skies.  Beautiful weather. GO GREEN.  The bottom line is the ES found this team's Spring Game talent, competition, and execution to be at such a higher level as I've ever seen before - looks like Title Town!!  Can't wait until we travel to Oregon - the Ducks have no idea what type of insanity on defense they will expect.  Maybe the Big Green can finally win at Oregon?  The ES was there the last two times - at Eugene in 1999 (we were down 42-0 at half) and in 1982 (we lost by 20 or 30).  Can't wait until the start of 2014 season!!!

(Walk up to Spartan Stadium):



(Below: Josiah Price on the game winning TD pass from Connor Cook with 1:01 left)



(A great crowd, maybe 45,000 in attendance.  Best ever for an MSU Spring Game):











Friday, February 07, 2014

President Obama talks brackets and football excellence at Michigan State

Well, the ES has just basked in the glory of the Rose Bowl for the past month.  It's been tough to get back into Spartan hoops after witnessing victory in the Promised Land.

That said, the ES will start chiming in on Spartan hoops here in the coming days and weeks.  But, that brings to mind today.  I was presented a wonderful opportunity to go see POTUS sign the Farm Bill at Michigan State University today... and of course, he started out acknowledging how fantastic the Spartan athletic teams have played so far this academic year.  Obama singled out his need to "do some scouting..." for his hoops bracket; and, our hoops excellence combined with winning the Rose Bowl made us "greedy."  :)  Wow, watch below, very cool.  GO GREEN!


Friday, January 10, 2014

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Spartans finish #3, preseason #6, move Oregon game up a week

OK, the ES has taken some time off and healed his victory wounds from Pasadena.  Michigan State ended up #3 in the BCS, and in the final USA Today Poll; just 13 votes behind Auburn. The complete final AP poll is below, but as the ES said, MSU should have finished #2 above the Tigers.

What IS interesting, is that the "way-too-early" ESPN Poll picks the Big Green as a preseason #6 pick, with a favorable schedule - first time I can remember in my life that the Spartans were a preseason top 10 in football.

In other news.... the Spartans scheduled game at Oregon has been moved up to September 6, with a 3:30 ET kickoff.  Future schedules are listed below the USA Today Poll

USA Today Poll
RKTEAMRECORDPTS
1Florida State (59)14-01475
2Auburn12-21388
3Michigan State13-11375
4South Carolina11-21219
5Missouri12-21200
6Oklahoma11-21189
7Clemson11-21091
8Alabama11-21086
9Oregon11-2975
10Ohio State12-2872
10Stanford11-3872
12UCF12-1865
13Baylor11-2796
14LSU10-3719
15Louisville12-1703
16UCLA10-3597
17Oklahoma State10-3587
18Texas A&M9-4443
19USC10-4313
20Arizona State10-4302
21Wisconsin9-4266
22Duke10-4202
23Vanderbilt9-4180
24Notre Dame9-4125
25Nebraska9-4123
  • Others receiving votes: Washington 67, Fresno State 54, Northern Illinois 21, Marshall 17, Texas Tech 13, Kansas State 11, Ole Miss 7, Texas 4, Miami (FL) 4, Cincinnati 3, East Carolina 3, Arizona 2, North Texas 2, Utah State 2, Navy 1, Louisiana-Lafayette 1
2014 SPARTAN FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
Aug. 30 JACKSONVILLE STATE
Sept. 6 at Oregon
Sept. 20 EASTERN MICHIGAN
Sept. 27 WYOMING (HOMECOMING)
Oct. 4 NEBRASKA
Oct. 11 at Purdue
Oct. 18 at Indiana
Oct. 25 MICHIGAN
Nov. 8 OHIO STATE
Nov. 15 at Maryland
Nov. 22 RUTGERS
Nov. 29 at Penn State

2015
Sept. 12 OREGON
Sept. 19 at Western Michigan
Sept. 26 CENTRAL MICHIGAN
Oct. 3 PURDUE
Oct. 10 at Rutgers
Oct. 17 at Michigan
Oct. 24 INDIANA
Nov. 7 at Nebraska
Nov. 14 MARYLAND
Nov. 21 at Ohio State
Nov. 28 PENN STATE
* Additional game to be scheduled

2016 (BIG TEN ONLY)
Oct. 1 at Indiana
Oct. 8 WISCONSIN
Oct. 15 NORTHWESTERN
Oct. 22 at Maryland
Oct. 29 MICHIGAN
Nov. 5 at Illinois
Nov. 12 RUTGERS
Nov. 19 OHIO STATE
Nov. 26 at Penn State

2017 (BIG TEN ONLY)
Sept. 30 IOWA
Oct. 7 at Michigan
Oct. 14 at Minnesota
Oct. 21 INDIANA
Oct. 28 at Northwestern
Nov. 4 PENN STATE
Nov. 11 at Ohio State
Nov. 18 MARYLAND
Nov. 25 at Rutgers

2018 (BIG TEN ONLY)
Sept. 22: at Indiana
Oct. 6: NORTHWESTERN
Oct. 13: at Penn State
Oct. 20: MICHIGAN
Oct. 27: PURDUE
Nov. 3: at Maryland
Nov. 10: OHIO STATE
Nov. 17: at Nebraska
Nov. 24: RUTGERS

2019 (BIG TEN ONLY)

Sept. 21: at Northwestern
Sept. 28: INDIANA
Oct. 5: at Ohio State
Oct. 12: at Wisconsin
Oct. 26: PENN STATE
Nov. 9: ILLINOIS
Nov. 16: at Michigan
Nov. 23: at Rutgers
Nov. 30: MARYLAND

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Michigan State football should be #2

Congrats to Florida State; the ES was pulling for Auburn to give MSU a shared national champion.  That said, the final polls should be:

#1 Florida State (14-0)
#2 Michigan State (13-1)
#3 Auburn (12-2)

... then, everybody else. Associated Press voters have nothing to do with the BCS. They should do the right thing to vote MSU #2, particularly after the SOLID PERFORMANCE by the Spartans in their victories in the Rose Bowl over #5 Stanford, and the B1G Ten Title game over then-#2 Ohio State.  As the ES said earlier, "Why Not Us?"

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Why not us?

Glorious.  It was the greatest experience in the history of mankind. 

The #4 Michigan State Spartan football team dominated Stanford in the Rose Bowl, as we Spartans knew they would.  It was very much the same theme we’ve seen out of the Spartans all year, only this time against the best opponent Michigan State has faced all year.   MSU was a six point underdog, as it had been frequently an underdog this year.  The Spartans started slowly, as they had often this year.  MSU spotted Stanford 10 points in the first quarter, thanks in part to the poor decision by QB Connor Cook to throw a terrible pass picked and returned for six. But, the ES wasn’t worried.  Cook rebounded nicely and had yet another career high, this time throwing for 332 yards.  The mix of run and pass by the Spartans was deliberate and effective.

This Michigan State team is the best team in the country.  They proved it again in their most complete performance of the season, and the most complete performance in my 45 years of life.  Quite simply: we’d kick Alabama’s ass. 

As Dantonio stated after the Big Ten championship, “why not us?”  MSU IS the best team in the country.  They really are.  They beat everyone the same way – aggressive defense, an improving offense, and wearing teams down with physical play.  Who’s next?  Bring them on. The Spartans would beat anyone.

Speaking about Alabama…  fifteen years ago, Nick Saban left Michigan State for “greener pastures” at Louisiana State, not wanting to be #2 in the state of Michigan.  Well, Nick, I guess the tables are turned.  MSU is better than your team, and it is the #1 team in the state of Michigan; funny, your Crimson Tide is #2 in the state of Alabama.  That’s karma.

The ES is writing this blog with Keith in Manhattan Beach, and I haven’t even looked at the stats until now.  Why?  Cause it doesn’t matter.  It’s the last game of the season, you either win or you don’t.  The only stat that matters in the Rose Bowl is the score. But… that said, let’s see the stats to learn what really stands out:

1.    The No Fly Zone was in effect:  my god, Michigan State threw for 332 yards; Stanford for just 143 (10-of-18).  It was so impressive, the stadium was roaring “No Fly, No Fly” as the game wore on. Stanford was afraid to throw on its last drive.

2.    Stanford’s drives in the second half demonstrate MSU’s rugged defense:
•    3-13, 1:13, interception
•    7-54, 4:18, stopped on 4th down
•    3-(-1), 2:01, punt
•    3-7, 1:13, punt
•    9-50, 4:46, field goal
•    4-9, 1:23, downs

3.  Stanford’s defensive front was the best Michigan State faced all year – holding the Spartans to just 65 yards rushing, with three sacks; Jeremy Langford had 84 yards on 23 carries (3.7 average).

4.  Bennie Fowler (2-97) and Tony Lippett (5-94) were AWESOME targets for Connor Cook.  Fowler’s 37 yard, reach-back grab, was especially amazing.  These guys couldn’t catch a ball early in the season; yesterday, they caught everything thrown their way.

And, Kyler Ellsworth absolutely deserved the award for Defensive MVP.  His play at the end of the game, diving over the top to smash Stanford’s last hope on a fourth down run, is one of the greatest individual efforts I’ve ever seen.  It was ridiculously amazing.  The best part of it, though, was being in the stands after the play as the 70,000-plus Spartans went ape-shit.  It was pure zaniness.

45-minutes after the game, there were still 70,000 Spartan fans in the Rose Bowl.  Noone wanted the moment to end. 

OK, more later.  The ES just ran into some Spartan fans here at Baja Sharkeez – we talked about the game yesterday, and they agreed “it was the greatest event I ever saw.”  Funny thing is, they also noted “it ruined watching sports for the rest of my life.” 

Well, I haven’t bathed since 4:30 am on Wednesday and my hair is still green.  I might never wash it again. 

Thank you, coach Dantonio and these Michigan State Spartans.  As was the theme of the Rose Bowl, and as sung by Darryl Hall during the Rose Parade, “You made my dreams come true.”  Coach D, you done did it. Thank you. 

And by the way: to the college football nation, Michigan State is #1. 


Monday, December 30, 2013

ES Game Day: Spartans to emerge victorious in Rose Bowl mosh pit

ES Travel to LA LA LAND

Today is the big trip to the Rose Bowl!  The ES is on his way with Big Bob, Michelle, and Keith departing Detroit Metro to LAX through Philly.  ‘Twas fun so far – getting on the Michigan Flyer bus from 95%-restored-power-East Lansing, with the bus 80% filled with Spartan fans.   Was especially entertaining the response from the few who boarded the flyer in Ann Arbor.   

Upon arrival, a rather uneventful morning at Detroit Metro – with the exception of it being packed with people donning the Green and White.  As the ES headed through the metal detector, the TSA security agent said, “I’ve never seen so many Michigan State people in two days.  I can’t believe there are so many of you.”  If the ES wasn’t so damn tired, he’d have grinned.

The plane was 75% Spartans to Philadelphia (must be a hub for US Airways).  On the Philly to LAX flight, another 50-60% Spartan fans.  Nice to see this type of travel from the Big Green.

The ES + gang should meet up with his brother (from Switzerland), his papa (from Gig Harbor, Washington), as well as California-based chums Smig, CHock, Kaz, BG, Sherm, Sluggo, Reno Ron, Dr. Evil, and Carter.   That’s one helluva group.  God help us all. 


PREVIEW: The Granddaddy of Them All

The Rose Bowl
January 1, 2014.  5 pm ET.
Michigan State Spartans (#4, 12-1) vs. Stanford Cardinal (#5, 12-1)
Location:  Pasadena, CA
Temperature:  79 and sunny
Chance of Rain:  0%
TV:  ESPN

PREDICTIONS:

The ES will update this with more from around the country, including your typical suspects... but here are some interesting early predictions from some odd sources:

FoxSports: MSU 24-20
CertifiedChance:  MSU 21-17
KJRH.com: Stanford 27-13
Q13Fox.com: Stanford
OregonLive:  Stanford 27-21
DeseretNews: MSU 20-17
Gadsden Messenger:  Stanford 24-20

RECAP:

Well, it took the Enlightened Spartan 26 years of his life, but he has finally returned to the glorious pastures of Pasadena since our last appearance in 1988.  Our coach, doctor Mark Dantonio, has brought the Michigan State University football team to the Promised Land.  With a win, the Spartans could potentially get to as high as #2 in the nation.  It’s truly been a season of the ages – the best team the ES has seen in his life.  If you would have told the ES at the beginning of the season that Connor Cook would be the MVP of the B1G Ten Championship Game, and that MSU would finish the season #4 and undefeated in the conference, well… the ES would have gladly stepped in front of a CATA bus.  But, here we are, and MSU is arguably the most improved team in the nation – especially on offense.  For not the Notre Dame game with a couple of crappy pass interference calls, and putting in Andrew “Clipboard”  Maxwell for the final series, MSU could be at the Rose Bowl to play for the national title.  But, who cares.  We still MADE IT!  ROSES ROSES ROSES!!!!

ES ANALYSIS:

MSU defense vs Stanford offense

Let’s first address the loss of Bullough.  Much has been made about the suspension (link to ES page) of Michigan State’s best player, LB Max Bullough (76 tackes, 9.5 for loss, 10 QB hurries), from the Rose Bowl.  At the presser on Dec 30, the doctor noted that Tyler Ellsworth (10 tackles, 1 pass break up) and Darien Harris (7 tackles) will likely see quite a bit of playing time replacing Mad Max… and while Bullough will be missed, Dantonio offered the system that comes first.  OK, the ES has been a FAN of Ellsworth the past few years – although he has not started, Ellsworth has a knack for loose balls and causing turnovers.  Ellsworth will be a capable replacement – but Bullough he is not.  Bullough will be missed, and it will be crucial for the replacements to minimize mistakes, and not give up the big play, in key situations – particularly third/fourth down and short.  The Stanford offensive line is big and nasty, and their tough, interior power run game demands tough, tight assignment play by the Spartan defense.  The ES is aligned with Certified Chance’s reading from the presser, that it will hurt – but not break – MSU’s defensive mastery.

While the Spartan rushing defense gave up a whopping, season-high 245 rushing yards to Ohio State, much of that was made on the legs of Braxton Miller… whom Stanford QB Kevin Hogan is not (Hogan has a savvy, but not extraordinary, 314 rushing yards on 76 attempts).  But their RB, former baseballer Tyler Gaffney, ran for 1,618 yards (124.5 per game, 5.3 per attempt).  Without less mobility at QB than we saw vs Ohio State, MSU’s defense should manage to keep the Cardinal running game in check, despite the loss of Bullough.  Now, whether or not the LB replacements can make the reads, blitz and make pressure plays on third and longs (as could Bullough) will also be a key to watch.   

Gaffney connected on 61.4% of his throws for 2,487 yards, with a 20-9 TD-to-INT ratio.  His main targets are Ty Montgomery (58 recs, 937 yards, 10 TDs) and Devon Cajuste (27 recs, 591 yards, 5 TDs) – but, he also has tossed it to 18 different receivers, six of whom have 10 catches or more.  Plus, Gaffney has only been sacked 15 times this year.

We know Spartan DBs Darqueze Dennard (10 PBUs, 4 INTs, 10 QB hurries) and Trae Waynes (5 PBUs, 2 INTs) can lock down any receivers; and we know Isaiah Lewis and Kurtis Drummond (6 PBUs, 4 INT) help solidify the nation’s best secondary.  We know Shalique Calhoun (14 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 18 QB hurries), Denicos Allen (15 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 10 QB hurries), and Marcus Rush (7.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 4 QB hurries) will get in the Stanford offensive backfield and cause pressure.   Why do we know this?  They’ve done it in every game this season, and noone has stopped them.  That’s why.

What the hell do all these stats mean?  Should make for a GREAT matchup:  a very capable, tough nosed, run-first Stanford offense against the best defense in the land in Michigan State; against a defense that applies more heat, has the best pass coverage, and is more ferocious on the interior than any other defense in the country.   This is what the ES is dying to watch.


MSU offense vs Stanford defense

This is one of the more fascinating stories of all of college football:  the growth and improvement of the Michigan State offense, particularly QB Connor Cook (58.4% completion, 2,423 yards, 20-5 TD-INT ratio), his wideouts (Tony Lippett 39-519. Macgarrett Kings, 39-461; Bennie Fowler, 34-525; Aaron Burbridge, 22-194; and, Keith Mumphery, 17-279), and the running of Jeremy Langford (269-1,391, 17 TDs, 5.0 avg; 23 rec-140 yards).  Cook’s rise to glory is remarkable, and he looks the part – making good decisions, with a killer arm, and fleet of foot when necessary.  He looks, acts, and has played like the leader he has become.

Cook has thrown to 15 different receivers this season, with seven of them catching 16 or more.  The emergency of Josiah Price at TE (16-201) has been important; particularly on third downs and in the red zone.  His hands are iffy (several drops), unless it really matters when they turn to stick-em (4 TDs).  Early this season, Spartan receivers dropped balls left and right.  But not in Big Ten play – particuarly Lippett, Fowler, and Kings, who have shown excellent hands and speed.  Keith Mumphery, only 17 catches, but he is very dangerous (note: 72 yard TD vs Ohio State), with all of his catches long – he is averaging 16.4 yards per catch.

Langford has also risen to glory, and the runs at the end of the Ohio State game demonstrate how solid he is – running over Buckeye defenders on successive plays, both inside and outside, then right up the middle darting for a 27 yard TD.  Langford is MSU’s equal to Stanford’s Gaffney.  His 123 yards vs the Buckeyes were the only 100 yard rusher against Ohio State this year.

The MSU offensive line has quietly turned into the Big Ten’s BEST, led by the ES’ former neighbor, Blake Treadwell.  The Spartan O-line has given up just 13 sacks in 13 games, has powered ahead with a rushing game averaging 182 yards per game, and all the while given Cook the time to mature.  A very impressive bunch.

Stanford, defensively, is only giving up 91 yards per game on the ground, but 248 yards per game through the air.  This may be the biggest advantage for MSU – the rise of Connor Cook to connect to his wideouts.  But, Stanford, like MSU, brings the pressure as well, with 40 sacks on the season.  Murphy (#93 - 14 sacks, 21.5 for loss, and 7 QB hurries for Stanford. Mauro (#90 - 11.5 TFL, 4 sacks), Skov (#11 - 10 TFL, 4.5 sacks), and Gardner (#49, 7.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 9 QB hurries) similarly bring the heat.   The Stanford defensive backfield is more than capable, although they do not put up as impressive numbers as MSU; Richards (#8) leads the Stanford defensive backs with 3 INTs and 9 passes defended.

What does this mean?  If the Spartan offensive line can give Cook the time, and if Dave Warner can work with Dantonio to create a capable, drive sustaining mix of pass with run (MSU leads the nation in time of possession particularly for this reason), it should be able to connect on enough passing plays to make the difference.

Special teams

Stanford has the big edge in kick returns:  Montgomery has 2 TDs, including a 100 yarder, averaging 31.2 per return.   Neither team has broken out for long punt returns.  Michigan State gets the edge in the kicking game:  Stanford’s Williamson has hit on 16-of-20 FGs, including a long of 48.  But, MSU’s Geiger has hit on 14-of-15 FGs, with a long of 49. Stanford’s Rhyne averages 42 yards a punt with a long of 58; 10 of his 47 punts have exceeded 50 yards, while 15 (32%) have been downed inside the 20.  MSU’s Sadler also averages 42 yards a punt, but 30 of his 70 punts (43%) have been downed inside the 20, with a long of 69.

Other stats

The ES has harped all year on third down percentage.   Michigan State is averaging 45% on its third down attempts, and 64% on its fourth down attempts.  Meanwhile, the Spartans are giving up just 28% on third downs.   Stanford does better on third downs offensively, converting 51% of the time (67% on fourth downs), but does slightly worse defensively (giving up 32%). 

Interestingly, while opopnents are averaging 78% scoring in the red zone against MSU, they have just 27 attempts compared to MSU’s 46 attempts.  And, of those 27 attempts, less than half (only 13) have resulted in TDs.  When you add in the fact the Spartans have the nation’s best run defense and lock-down corners not giving up long passes, this results in the nation’s best scoring defense – just 12.7 PPG.  Stanford is giving up 18.6 PPG, with opponents similarly averaging 74% conversion in the redzone, but with more opportunities:  Stanford’s opponents are in the red zone 39 times compared to its offense 49 times, and its defense has given up 19 TDs (49%).  In other words, Stanford allows opponents to get within its 20-yard-line more often than does MSU, and it also gives up more TDs in the red zone than does MSU.

Michigan State has also forced a whopping 27 turnovers while giving up just 13.  The 2-1 ratio has served tremendous dividends for the Spartans this year.   Stanford has forced 17 turnovers, while giving up 18. 

Finally, Michigan State has outscored opponents an amazing 105-27 in the fourth quarter, when it matters most, and 202-69 in second halves; Stanford has been outscored 82-85 in the fourth quarter, but outscored opponents, 197-139 in the second half.  Big advantage to Michigan State.

Stat summary (Michigan State, Stanford)

Per game averages
MSU
Stanford
Scoring off
29.8
33.2
Scoring def
12.7
18.6
Rush off
182.2
210.9
Rush def
80.8
91.2
Pass off
202.5
202.2
Pass def
167.4
247.8
Turnover ratio
27-13, +14
17-18, -1
3rd down off
45%
51%
3rd down def
28%
32%
TOP off
33:29
31:59
TOP def
26:27
28:01
Penalty yds
51.6
43.5

ES sez: 

What a great game with fairly evenly matched teams.  The biggest differences in favor of the Spartans:  1) MSU passing game has a greater TD-INT ratio; 2)  the Spartan defense across the board allows less yards and fewer red zone opportunities, particulary the MSU pass defense; 3) the Spartan punting game extends the field longer and downs more balls inside the 20; 4) the turnovers for the Spartans are greatly in their favor; 5) Michigan State saves its best for last, vastly outplaying and outscoring opponents in the second half (particularly the fourth quarter).  The biggest differences in favor of Stanford are:  1) Gaffney at RB has bigger games; 2) their kick return game is far more sucessful; 3) their schedule was marginally better this year playing the likes of Oregon, Arizona State, and Notre Dame (Stanford beat the Irish 27-20 late in the year). 

Think about the last game for each team, with the level of competition heavily going to Michigan State vs Ohio State.  In the end, it was the Spartan offense which chopped up the Ohio State defense; and a Spartan defense which gave up lots of scramble yards to Ohio State, but which built a brick wall to stand up the Buckeyes in the end. 

The ES expects both defenses to grind running games into the ground.  It will be smash-mouth, with patience on offense.  Dantonio likes to even the mix of pass with run, and expect the Spartan offense will continue its improvement, particularly the passing game.  However, also expect the loss of Bullough to rear its ugly head with less efficient play calling on third downs.  It will be a lower scoring game – because of the defenses.  Watch the kicking game of MSU, extending the field with punts, timely FGs, to make a big big difference in this game.  The doctor will pull out a trick play on offense – he seemingly always does in big games, at exactly the right time.  Also, watch MSU make another strong second half en route to a 13-1 season.

Final: Michigan State 20, Stanford 17.