Thursday, December 30, 2021

ES Preview: Peach Bowl vs Narduzzis

 #10 (10-2/7-2 Michigan State Spartans) vs #12 Pittsburgh Panthers (11-2, ACC Champs)

Thursday, December 30, 2021. 7 pm.
Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA. TV: ESPN
Weather: Dome doesn’t matter; outside it’ll be 66 & cloudy, 25% chance rain

Sagarin Ratings: MSU #24, Pitt #14
Line Outta Vegas: MSU by 3

Times, up, Fighting Narduzzis. Finally, its time you face a REAL opponent, and not the weak ACC hoopsters on graas.

Welcome to the world of Pat Narduzzi, the former extraordinaire D-Coord for the Spartans, coaching the upstart Pittsburgh Panthers in their best season since an 11-1 record as an independent under legendary coach Jackie Sherrill in 1981.

Damn Good Defensive Genius, was Narduzzi for the No-Fly-Zone Spartans.

ES doesn’t know much about the Fighting Narduzzis, other than their best player, Kenny Pickett, split for the NFL, much like Spartan RB Kenneth Walker III did the same. With both teams not featuring its best player, who does the loss hurt most? Always losing your QB, the field general, hurts more. Plus, MSU running backs Eliajah Collins, Jordan Simmons, and Harold Joiner are still a decent and very capable trio. In addtion, with Jalen Nailor returning at wideout, MSU’s passing game should be high-flying with Thorne to Nailor, Jayden Reed, Tre Mosley… not to mention the oft-used Connor Heyward at TE.

The problem, as usual, will be the Spartan defense: are they capable of giving up less than 300 yards through the air, or be torched in a loss once again? Will it be bend-but-dont-break with the occasionaly, timely turnover for the Spartan D, or the Pittsburgh offense scoring at will through the air?

Let’s see some stats, briefly (significant advantage in bold italics):

CategoryMSU offense (rank)Pitt defense (rank)
Pass Yards245.3 (40th)257.4 (106th)
Passing (C-I-Int-Yds)214-350-2944 (24 tds)273-456-15-3346 (23 tds)
Rush Yards185.6 (42nd)91.8 ypg (6th)
Scoring Offense31.9 (40th)23.1 ppg (39th)
3rd Down Pct.39% (75th)32% (8th)
 MSU defense (rank)Pitt offense (rank)
Pass Yards330.7 (130th)305.2 ypg (5th)
Passing (C-I-Int-Yds)364-556-4052 (26 tds)351-521-7-4553 (43 tds)
Rush Yards118.2 (18th)152.7 ypg (73rd)
Scoring Defense25.7 (57th)43.0 ppg (3rd)
3rd Down Pct.42% (98th)46% (17th)
 MSU (rank)Pitt (rank)
Turnover Margin0.33 (42nd)0.54 (25th)
Net punting42.7 (15th)37.9 (89th)
Punt returns19.3 (3rd)9.6 (46th)

Statistically, Pitt has the advantage from the line of scrimmage, particularly offensively through the air – though the Spartans have more balance between run and pass. MSU, meanwhile, has a huge advantage in lengthening the field and returning punts: this may be the key to the game. If MSU can once again force long drives by Pitt and the bend-but-dont-break defense makes a few timely plays, it should come out the victor. What the stats do NOT show is the quality of opponents: Pitt won the very weak ACC, but has a schedule strength of 78th according to Jeff Sagarin, while Michigan State was third in the tough Big Ten East with a schedule strength of 20th. Should be an entertaining, and tight matchup for tonights’ game.


Freep: Seidel, MSU 35-27; Windsor, MSU 26-23
Pitt POV: Narduzzis 35-17
Athlon: MSU 28-24
Spartan Avenue: MSU 41-27
CFN: Narduzzis, 38-34
The Athletic: MSU staff picks
Irish Breakown: MSU 37-32
LSJ: MSU 34-26
Atlanta Zoo Panda: MSU (video)

ES sez: MSU 40, Fighting Narduzzis 35. Go Big Green TD Machine!

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

The death of an Icon: John Madden

 Coach John Madden. The GOAT – Greatest of All Time.

I loved this roly-poly Teddy Bear of a coach. John Madden, R.I.P. He was the greatest of all time.

Today was supposed to be the ES Preview for the Peach Bowl matchup vs the Pittsburgh Panthers.  Instead, its been interrupted by devastating news. 

Rarely has the ES cried over the death of any celebrity.  Johnny Cash was one.  But, this was the big one.  John Madden has passed on. 

No one person has ever had such an instrumental impact in my love for football than Coach Madden.  As a little tike, I first was exposed to football attending a Michigan State -Ohio State stint in 1975 at Spartan Stadium (OSU won, 21-0).  I began to love the spectacle. Soon after, I moved to Northern California, as an Air Force brat, just about 30 miles outside of Oakland.  My mom attended the University of California for her masters degree, and my first ever season tickets were to the lean years of Joe Kapp and the Cal Golden Bears (1975 – 1982).  

But, what captured my love was not Cal.  It was the misfit ragtag mean-as-hell team of the Oakland Raiders, with its iconic fun, roly-poly heavy, very humorous, and talented coach John Madden.  It took all of my first year of 1975-76 watching the NFL to fall in love with football, and Madden.  His team, the Oakland Raiders, was tough, crazy, wild, and played their asses off for Madden.  I fell in love with Cliff Branch and Fred Belitnikoff at WR, Kenny Stabler at QB, Jack Tatum at DB, and the stork, Ted Hendricks at LB.  But, most of all, the sideline antics of John Madden, who lived and breathed the passion of football, caught my love and attention.  I purchased a 1976 Super Bowl pennant when the Raiders beat the Vikings, and have proudly hung it up on my walls ever since.  I even had a Raiders helmet that I wore until I grew out of it.

When he retired from the Raiders, I cried.  I was only 10, but it hurt. He was everything to me.  Then the traitor-Raiders left for LA, and I became a 49ers fan. My dad said “Well, the Raiders are gone, so I guess we’re 49ers fans now.” That’s San Francisco, the closest nearby team, with OJ Simpson playing his last year for the struggling Niners before their glory decade of the 1980s. 

Madden in the booth was GOD.  Everything he said was right.  And, he was entertaining as hell.  Just like on the field.  Madden made football easy to understand the complicated game as I grew into it.  I was a computer geek, and he led me to create my first ever computer program on a TI-99, which was a NFL-prediction program in BASIC language.  Even if the program used stats from the “Scoreboard” of the San Francisco Chronicle and punched out an odd Miami 77-25 prediction of a matchup against the New England Patriots, I would listen intently to Madden every week, watch Monday Night Football, and adjust that damn computer program accordingly. It was never accurate, but sure as hell was fun. 

The greatest broadcasting team in the history of sports. Summerall and Madden.

The John Madden-Pat Summerall duo was the best football broadcasting team in history.  The straight man, Stan Laurel (play by play) of Summerall was instantly a perfect match for the humorous and clumsy Oliver Hardy (color commentary) of John Madden.  It worked to perfection every week for 30+ years, even when Madden moved to FOX and instantly created FOX as a meaningful fourth-tv network in the early 90s, with the addition of the NFL.  It was Madden who made football easy to understand and to love. 

When Madden retired from the booth in 2009 (, I cried again.  Here it was, my football idol of all time, leaving the game, this time for good.  Tough to live a football life without Madden in it. But, then Madden video games kept his name alive, even for generations of youngsters who never had the chance to hear or see his enthralling, boisterous years live on the gridiron or in the booth. Who is this guy, bigger than football?

Of course, Madden isn’t bigger than football.   The NFL, and college football lives on.  But, Madden WAS football.  No-one contributed more to the game than John Madden. If you named the 10-most influential people in this history of the sport, John Madden would be each spot in the top 10; everyone else was #11 or lesser.

Goodbye, Coach.  You were and are the GOAT – The Greatest of All Time. A tear of joyous memories, and your loss is football’s loss.  I’ll never forget you.  Thank you for all you’ve done for my life.