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

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%


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 Stanford 27-13 Stanford
OregonLive:  Stanford 27-21
DeseretNews: MSU 20-17
Gadsden Messenger:  Stanford 24-20


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!!!!


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
Scoring off
Scoring def
Rush off
Rush def
Pass off
Pass def
Turnover ratio
27-13, +14
17-18, -1
3rd down off
3rd down def
TOP off
TOP def
Penalty yds

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment