Tag Archives: Michigan State

Close the books on another college football season

So another season of college football is over. And what did we learn?

The SEC isn’t the only conference where teams can be made up of big, strong Southern athletes, although anyone who didn’t know that must be under 30 or have a very short memory.

Clemson runs out the clock on Ohio State.

Clemson runs out the clock on Ohio State.

That’s because Florida State cornered the market on dominance for more than a decade leading up to and through the beginning of the BCS era. Before SEC teams were getting the benefit of the doubt in the polls because of recent history, it was the Seminoles. And they earned their place at the top by taking the place of the Miami dynasty that went off the rails after a swaggering, successful decade of the ‘80s.

I am curious what Michigan State might have been able to do in the national championship game because of its defense – the same reason I stopped being curious about how Ohio State would fare on the same stage.  Continue reading

Talking Ohio State football on 95.5 The Game

I had the pleasure of appearing on the FN’A Show on 95.5 The Game in Columbus earlier this week, where we talked about the Big Ten championship game between Ohio State and Michigan State.

Sun sets on Michigan Stadium

Sun sets on Michigan Stadium

We also discussed who might be the Buckeyes’ best Heisman Trophy candidate, what makes the Spartans’ defense so good, concerns about Ohio State’s defense and Buckeye football more.

In case you missed the segment, here’s the podcast.

Check it out!


Ranking help Ohio State football needs to get into the BCS

Quickly now let’s rank by importance the BCS help the Ohio State needs in the second half of the football season: BCS national championship logo 2014 Rose Bowl

1. At least three of the foursome of Alabama, Oregon, Clemson and Florida State take losses. 

I don’t think the Buckeyes’ schedule is going to be strong enough on its own merits to get them into the title game ahead of any of those teams if they remain undefeated.

Stanford’s loss to Utah on Saturday was nice for Ohio State because it means Stanford could take out Oregon without being a serious threat to be ranked ahead of the Buckeyes. The winner of this Saturday’s Clemson-FSU clash is pretty much certain to be ranked ahead of Ohio State this time next week, but obviously there will still be a lot of season left to play. Perhaps the Buckeyes will benefit from both teams having historical out-of-conference rivals to deal with on the last week of the regular season, not to mention a tough potential matchup with Virginia Tech in the ACC championship game.  Continue reading

Ohio State football by the (advanced) numbers so far

Yesterday we took a look at the Ohio State-Northwestern game through the eyes of advanced statistics from Football Outsiders.

Today, we examine where the Buckeyes rank halfway through their season based on FO’s measure of play-by-play efficiency known as S&P+ (later in the season they will add drive efficiency measures, but those aren’t up yet for this season). It should also be noted that garbage time is weeded out of these numbers before rankings are determined. Continue reading

A Last Look at the Big Ten Bowls

Earlier, I took an overview of the Big Ten and what it needs to bounce back from a very poor 2012 football season. I take a lot more from the regular season than the bowls, but another sub-.500 record in the postseason certainly doesn’t help the cause of the league.

As far as the games themselves, I’m not sure we learned a whole lot.

  • The 2013 Capital One Bowl was really a quintessential 2012 Nebraska performance as the Cornhuskers gained 443 yards of offense but allowed 146 more than that. They put up 31 points (including an interception returned for a touchdown) but lost by two touchdowns. In short, the offense and defense were both spectacular, one good and one bad. I’d say personnel is the main explanation on both sides – Taylor Martinez progressed significantly (but still has more room to improve even more as a senior) and Nader Abdallah stepped up in the wake of I-back Rex Burkhead’s injury-plagued senior campaign. Aside from Burkhead (whom they’ve shown they can live without), the only real weapons they lose are a pair of talented tight ends, so the offense should continue to hum. Defensively, a bunch of seniors are walking out the door, but I’m not sure that is a bad thing. The talent has steadily dropped on that unit for three consecutive years, and the production has followed. Some new blood could be good, although I would rate Will Compton, Baker Steinkuhler and Eric Martin as players who will be missed. I also think the season and the game demonstrated the double-edged sword that is the multifaceted Bo Pelini (and coordinator John Papuchis) defense. A two-gap defensive line and pattern reading secondary gives the scheme a lot of flexibility, but it also leaves a lot of potential seams that can burst in the case of bad communication. To make matters worse, I don’t think Nebraska had enough guys with the talent to erase mistakes.
  • Michigan’s defensive numbers were largely a mirage. I like their young linebackers a lot, but the defensive line needs a serious upgrade. The secondary was better than it had been two years ago, but that doesn’t say much. The gaudy numbers they had as a secondary in the regular season were mostly a result of the weakness of Big Ten passing games and the weakness of the Michigan defense of line. Teams were plenty happy to run on the Wolverines until they were stopped. I thought Al Borges bounced back with a better game plan against South Carolina and he did, although it could have used some more Denard Robinson. Devin Gardner has a lot of talent, but he is still raw. Michigan has a playmaking wide receiver in Jeremy Gallon, but it remains to be seen if anyone else will step up to join him. Who knows if they will find a playmaker in the backfield, but the offensive line could be a major liability. It will definitely be young. Getting Taylor Lewan back could be a good start, but he’s not actually as productive as his accolades would indicate. That’s probably why the Michigan coaching staff barely gave him any chances to match up one-on-one with Jadeveon Clowney, who only played about half his team’s snaps anyway.
  • I suppose we learned Michigan State does not have unending confidence in Andrew Maxwell, but I guess that shouldn’t be a shock after the season he had. Of course he was made a captain before the season started. Are young quarterback in the expected to struggle, but I think the larger issue was with play calling that did not help them out. Of course, it’s hard to call plays when you can’t block anybody. The Spartans just have to get better up front if they want to be good enough to be an upper-echelon team. They should continue to be very good on defense next year even with the loss of William Gholston early to the pros. Depth is very good on the defensive line for MSU.
  • Northwestern sucked it up and got it done, actually riding a hot start to a postseason victory for a change. The Wildcats’ woeful secondary feasted on Mississippi State for four interceptions and showed some playmaking ability with six tackles for loss, including three sacks. Kain Colter and Venric Mark are wonderful skill players around whom to build an offense, but the offensive line started three seniors who will be missed. The quarterback rotation seems to need some bugs worked out, but a win is a win, especially considering the program’s postseason history.
  • Minnesota showed that it at least belonged in a bowl (for what that’s worth these days) but giving Texas Tech everything it wanted, but the Gophers couldn’t hang onto a late lead and lost on a last-second field goal. Only seven seniors started for the Gophers, who might have something in freshman quarterback Philip Nelson and sophomore running back Donnell Kirkwood. Leading tackler in the game Brock Vereen is due back at safety next year, as is defensive end Rashede Hageman (six tackles, one sack).
  • Purdue was kind enough to leave no doubt it made the right move in letting go Danny Hope. My only other thought on that game was that it will be refreshing to evaluate their 2013 roster with the impression any apparent talents won’t be wasted like they were under the Hope regime, which was plagued by injuries and undisciplined play. There are some dangerous skill guys on the roster if they all come back to play for new head coach Darrell Hazell, a former Ohio State assistant.
  • Rare is the Rose Bowl that feels like an afterthought, but it was hard to take much from Wisconsin’s loss to Stanford. Kudos to the Badgers for hanging tough after falling behind 14-0, but the Cardinal did not exactly lower the boom. Both teams were very conservative, owing to the total of 37 passes thrown and 34 points scored (not that I don’t love a good slugfest and the many varieties of running plays each team came out with). The game did serve as further validation to me of the improvement of the Wisconsin front seven, a group I was not high on at all entering the season but that turned in a really nice campaign. Most of it should be back, so that is a good building block for the new coaching staff in Madison. Nine seniors started on offense or defense for the Badgers, so they will be young and/or unproven at a lot of places in 2013.


Taking Stock Of The Big Ten and the Nation

Well, another college football season has come and gone and all we learned was that Alabama is still really good and Notre Dame isn’t back yet. Oh, and following NCAA rules is a good idea just in case you happen to go undefeated unexpectedly some year. Failing that, at least don’t get caught if you happen to bend the rules.

As for the finale on Monday night, I was able to watch the national championship game without remorse for the carnage or taking any particular joy in it, either.

I respect the SEC for what it has done in terms of hiring coaches and recruiting and developing players rather then hate it for its success, and being born in the ’80s, I don’t have any strong emotions about Notre Dame.

I see the pros and cons of the whole Fighting Irish thing. There’s some arrogance there, yeah, but that’s true of many programs. My first really vivid memory of Notre Dame is Gary Barnett telling his Northwestern players to expect victory and not carry him off the field when the Wildcats win. That was almost 20 years ago. They haven’t really been good enough to be annoying ever since.

The degree to which some Irish teams have been overrated in the meantime probably helped the Big Ten, if anything. It helped vault John Cooper’s still fledgling OSU program onto the national scene in the mid-90s and many a Michigan season was set up for ultimately being disappointing thanks to a thrashing of the Irish in September.

Of course, Michigan and its in-state neighbors in East Lansing returned the favor this year, going down to Notre Dame in the first month of the season when the Irish were still trying to gain a spot in the national title picture.

As for the conference of the Wolverines and Spartans, I found the reaction to the Big Ten’s most recent bowl performances a bit puzzling. Or at least over the top.

Yes, the league won only two games, but I’m not sure if you noticed but that was what was supposed to happen. Nor was it surprising that several of the games were competitive. It’s not as if the Big Ten has been getting blown out in every game every New Year’s Day for the past five years. Yet both of these happenings this year produced a lot of hot air that missed the main point.

The problem for the conference remains what it has been since at least the middle of the past decade: inferior coaching. That is exacerbated in the postseason by systematically poor matchups that can be attributed to no other than Jim Delany.

The conference – presumably intentionally – signed up to play the best team in the Pac-10, and a bunch of team from the SEC every year. This is no excuse, just a fact. Delany is correct when he says they haven’t ducked anybody when it comes to postseason matchups. I have no problem with that, but it probably should be acknowledged when we go about wondering what’s wrong with the league.

Of course this year it did not send its best team (Ohio State), and another 8-win squad (Penn State) had to stay home as well. That kept Wisconsin out of a more winnable matchup and basically assured a Rose Bowl loss. So strictly in regards to the postseason, it’s really been a death by 1,000 cuts now for going on more than half a decade, and reiterating that doesn’t serve much purpose.

The larger problems certainly lie with general program strength from top to bottom, and those come almost exclusively from a lack of quality coaching hires in the past decade or more.

Big Ten teams and Big Ten fans can complain all they want about Ohio State’s string of high-profile nonconference losses in the middle of the past decade, but until they build a program of their own big enough to knock the Buckeyes off they don’t really have a leg to stand on.

Bad coaching hires have a tendency to create a ripple effect, too, as they can set back roster building for years.

Delany wanted his teams to face the best and play on New Year’s Day. Now he’s reaping what he sowed. But the commissioner is certainly not the main culprit here (and based on an interview he gave to the ESPN Big Ten Blog, he plans to address some of the issues). He also gave every school in the conference a financial leg up with its last TV deal and the brilliantly forward-thinking creation of the Big Ten Network, but few of them have done much to take advantage.

Despite worry about the great migration of population to the South and west, there are enough players to stock plenty of solid-to-good programs in the Midwest. Ohio State, the only school sitting in a talent rich state, might be the only one with the resources to be a consistent national power anymore. Michigan is back in the discussion thanks to its history and proximity to Ohio, but it is too early to tell what the ceiling will be for Brady Hoke’s program.

Regardless of the status of the unbeaten Buckeyes and the rebuilding Wolverines, the rest of the league needn’t be as weak as it has been for the majority of the past seven seasons, and there is unfortunately a lot of uncertainty yet on the immediate horizon across the league.

With or without Bret Bielema, Wisconsin’s days of regular double-digit wins were probably over with Ohio State’s return from NCAA purgatory and Michigan’s return from its self-imposed Rodriguezisation. Darker days may be ahead for Michigan State, too, if it gets more competition for local players it has been getting in the past few years who would have traditionally been more likely to be Buckeyes or Wolverines.

Penn State is in limbo, and Nebraska has some serious soul searching to do, but all is far from lost in Lincoln.

All of those schools – along with Iowa – have the money, fan bases and name brands to be tough outs every year even if they have little chance of being true national contenders.

I think Indiana is moving (slowly) in the right direction with Kevin Wilson, and Purdue could be, too, with newly hired Darrell Hazell.

Illinois should be better based on the population base it’s near and the popularity of football there, but it remains to be seen if they are far from needing yet another reboot.

That Northwestern can be in a bowl and be competitive every year shows anything is possible.

The league just needs coaches (including assistants) who can build and develop stable rosters. That means identifying talent throughout the region and getting it to stay home. Coaching it up wouldn’t hurt, either.

The SEC has done a better job of keeping its best players in the region going to SEC schools than has the Big Ten in the Midwest, and that is a real issue. It includes not only the handful of elite guys who have gone to Texas or Alabama or USC from Ohio but also the next-tier prospects who slip through the cracks and end up as stars in the MAC or the Big East. I respect the coaching being done in those leagues, but there is no reason for a Big Ten team to lose in recruiting to them. The difference in exposure thanks to the disparity of television contracts (and resulting revenue) should provide a major advantage for a coach when he goes into a kid’s living room.

Recruiting is an inexact science, but consider that of the eight players from the Mid-American Conference drafted last season, five were from Big Ten states. Two more were from New Jersey, a contiguous state traditionally recruited by Penn State.

Of the 12 Big East players drafted, half were from Big Ten country. That includes four from the University of Cincinnati who grew up in Big Ten country but not very near the Queen City. The Bearcat program has grown quite nicely in the past decade, but other than hometown pride, what does it offer that betters any Big Ten program? Not every Big East game is even on real television.

It is unlikely many – perhaps any – of those kids turned down Big Ten programs to go to the MAC or Big East, but that hardly absolves anyone. There are always surprise success stories, but the best coaches find and develop them consistently. Danny Hope and Tim Brewster and even Rich Rodriquez might still be in the league if they did a better job of identifying who can help them and offering them rather than letting them end up elsewhere.

Then the league might have more to look forward to next bowl season.

Second Thoughts: Ohio State-Michigan State

I walked out of Spartan Stadium on Saturday puzzled by a lot of the things Michigan State tried to do in a 17-16 loss to Ohio State. A second look indicates the Buckeye coaches might just have been a step ahead of them most of the day.

First of all, Michigan State could not block Ohio State straight up. This probably came as little surprise to either staff as it is consistent with what both sides have shown this season. However, I think the Spartans capitulated too quickly and easily.

Ohio State lines up against Michigan State

Michigan State tried a variety of ways to move it on the ground, and what worked they stopped trying as soon as Ohio State made one adjustment, if any.

They had a nice gain on outside zone run out of a two-tight end set once, and they managed to get a numbers and personnel advantage by aligning two receivers and the tight end to the field and then running to the boundary another time. Both times it was because they were finally able to run away from Johnathan Hankins, who usually lines up to the formation’s strength. Ohio State responded to that by putting Hankins back in the boundary when it saw the two-tight end look again and you can imagine what happened. Hankins beat a block and blew up the play.

Otherwise, Hankins generally could be found on the tight end side making life very difficult for whichever guard was trying to block him. He got more help this week from John Simon, who is probably getting healthier because he seemed more able to shed blocks against the run than he has the past couple of weeks. Garrett Goebel continued his stellar play at nose guard, and the linebackers all looked better when challenged.

Eteinne Sabino in particular was all over the field, flowing to the ball carrier more quickly than he often has in the past and finishing plays (aside from the MSU touchdown when the defense collectively lost its wits).

When the Spartans went back to the “tight end trips” look, Ohio State kept Hankins on the strong side and merely played the run better as Goebel and Simon beat single blocks, linebacker Ryan Shazier stuffed the guard and Sabino cleaned it up. I’m not sure we would have seen all of those things happen in previous weeks, but that was the different in East Lansing. Getting the middle linebacker Sabino to make a play going inside out like that was a huge difference, but one wonders if the Spartans would have been wise to make him prove more than once he was capable of doing it. Ditto regarding Shazier, who makes a lot of plays because of his athleticism but is still developing consistency.

Andrew Maxwell flashed some potential at quarterback, but he isn’t there yet, and his receivers are probably farther away. If experience breeds toughness, there were a handful of catches the Spartans probably make later in their careers. They could have had a big impact Saturday, but credit the Buckeyes for bringing the wood when they had the chance downfield. I do like Maxwell’s arm, and he avoided bad decisions. He still hasn’t thrown an interception since the Spartans’ opener, when he had three and looked kind of overwhelmed.

I thought Christian Bryant played a clean game, and Orhian Johnson provided help over the top several times when there was potential for a big play. The secondary continued to make some mistakes as both cornerbacks committed costly penalties, and Maxwell found some holes in coverage that might have been a result of people being on different pages.

While Michigan State was kind of all over the map, I thought the Ohio State staff brought a relatively concise plan on both sides of the ball.

They gave Maxwell some different looks in coverage but pretty much played the run straight up. Blitzes seemed well-timed, too, even though they only sacked him twice and those were probably both coverage sacks.

Offensively, the wide receiver screens did not yield any huge gains, but they probably played a role in running out the clock at the end because Michigan State was still respecting the slot receiver with the Sam linebacker even in an obvious running situation.

That provided some extra room for Miller and Hyde to pick up the initial first down of the last drive on two plays. They brought a safety down over the slot to free up the linebacker on the third play of the drive, but Ohio State maintained a numbers advantage by using Hyde as a lead blocker on a quarterback sweep. Zach Boren kicked out linebacker and Hyde hit the safety to give Miller and extra five yards.

On the last third down, they brought a cornerback in case Miller wanted to keep it and sent the middle linebacker up the middle, but Hyde sidestepped him and the outside linebacker got there a couple of steps too late to prevent him from finishing the run with power and making the line to gain. Why was he late? Because he lined up splitting the difference between the tackle and the slot receiver. Right tackle Reid Fragel had a key block, pancaking the tackle on that side, and Zach Boren held off the end long enough to create the crease for Hyde. Then the Buckeyes ran out the clock and started looking forward to a visit from Nebraska.

Ohio State Football Week 5: One Piece At A Time

This week we’re thinking of a Johnny Cash song as we look at what we know about this Ohio State football team with Big Ten play upon us.

What we learned last week: Expectations are funny things.

The week leading up to Ohio State’s 29-15 victory over UAB had a definite theme: What is wrong with the Buckeye defense, and how can it be fixed? There was very good reason for this because California had shredded the unit for more than 500 yards and four touchdowns one week earlier. 

The exposure of a specific alignment issue the Golden Bears exploited and rumblings of tension on the coaching staff surrounding how the defense should be drawn up also heightened the intrigue around the defense, but I think the reaction was more the result of what people thought they were going to see.

A variety of factors led the offseason conclusion that the Buckeyes would have no problems on defense. Depending on how you count, they had nine starters returning, and well know the default way to look at that is to expect improvement, especially when dealing with mostly highly recruited guys.

Head coach Urban Meyer supplemented the roster with more talented players, too, giving hope for added depth, but Meyer’s greater effect on the perception of the defense came from his bringing his offense to town.

Truth be told, there is only so much attention everyone has to go around, and the great majority (myself included) was put on the arrival of the spread in Columbus. That made it that much easier to forget the OSU defense might have any significant problems.

But you know what? The 2011 Buckeyes were a far cry from the vaunted Silver Bullets we have come to expect for the majority of the past 15 years, and many of their problems of a year ago remain this time around. The pass rush is still so-so. The scheme feels a bit empty. The linebackers aren’t offering a lot of production, and the secondary is still prone to mistakes. Also like last season, health has not helped, but that is kind of a part of the deal in this violent game we love so much.

And yet I come to praise the 2012 Ohio State defense, not to bury it. Missed tackles are a definite cause for alarm as the first month of the college football season winds down, but I think the perception of the Buckeyes’ performance against the Blazers is made much worse by the attitude created by both the preseason assumptions and the pregame concerns.

Overall, the defense got better last week. It adjusted schematically and though medium gains were an issue, truly explosive plays were cut down thanks to better leverage on the ball and good hustle to it. At least there were people around to clean up the messes this time around. They only allowed nine points when all is said and done.

So what am I getting at? The bigger issue last week was the offense. More than 50 percent three-and-outs did the defense no favors. Growing pains persist, and that is to be expected, but the overall production seems to be lessening from week to week.

The only consistent performer is Braxton Miller, but then maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise, either. That’s another theme carried over from last season, isn’t it? And there is no getting around the fact the wide receivers had a long way to go – as did the offensive line. Mix in injuries to the top two running backs on the team and a bunch of staff members getting used to each other from week to week, and there is a definite formula for disfunction in the short term.

I guess that means the real No. 1 lesson of last week – maybe of the season so far – is that ineligibility for the postseason isn’t necessarily a big deal for this team because it just isn’t ready for prime time.

What we can expect to learn this week: The mettle of a bunch of the Buckeyes – not to mention Michigan State.

Both teams have shown some obvious warts so far this season, but I still think – as do Associated Press pollsters, apparently – these are the two best teams in the conference. No, that does not say a lot for the state of the Big Ten, but then you probably already knew that.

While Ohio State is still trying to figure out what it wants to be on defense, Michigan State has no doubts there. Head coach Mark Dantonio’s front seven is just plain nasty, not to mention deep. It was young and talented last year. Now it is talented and seasoned.

The Spartan defense overwhelmed the Buckeyes in the Horseshoe in 2011, but that was more than just physical. The Spartans took advantage of an Ohio State offense that was limited in both experience and imagination with Miller starting only his second game at quarterback.

This Ohio State offensive line has looked better so far than the disappointing 2011 unit, but it has not faced a challenge anything like this either in terms of physical ability or fanciness of scheme.

For all the questions surrounding the Ohio State defense, Michigan State’s offense hasn’t been far from a disaster so far this season. The passing game looks a lot like a group that lost literally everyone that played a significant role last season, and the offensive line isn’t good enough to overcome that despite the presence of stud tailback Le’Veon Bell.

I can’t see how this will be anything but an ugly game. If there are fireworks on offense, they will probably have to come from big busted plays because I don’t see either team executing successfully on a consistent basis.

Both offensive lines will have their hands full, and Michigan State will challenge Ohio State’s young and improving wide receivers with tight coverage in all likelihood.
Yards will be at a premium, but only if Ohio State shores up its tackling issues.
Can that be done in a week? I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

Big Ten Thoughts: At least that was the last Ground Hog Day for the league this year. Multiple Big Ten teams won’t get the chance to fail out of conference again until New Year’s Day, so at least that’s something Jim Delany can hang his hat on while trying to ignore the fact he expanded his league without a real good reason as long as Notre Dame wasn’t coming to the party.

Of course it’s ironic the Fighting Irish have played a large role on the field this season, too, in exposing the many flaws both Michigan State and Michigan have. Not only that, their more-closely-contested win over Purdue three weeks ago might just serve as proof the Boilermakers are no pushover this season.

The interesting thing about the pre-conference season in the Big Ten is that almost no one expected to be in the race appears to have fixed any of the problems that came up during the offseason. By that I mean it seems everyone who was any good who graduated or went pro after 2011 has yet to be replaced in 2012.

Michigan has no new Mike Martin or David Molk, yet. Wisconsin has no quarterback. Michigan State has no passing game at all.

Some flaws are back from last season, too. Denard Robinson still can’t drop back and find open receivers (on his team) consistently. Michigan State still can’t block. Nebraska still isn’t Nebraska on defense.

There are some improvements, the most noticeable being Nebraska looks better on offense with a more efficient Taylor Martinez. The Wisconsin defense has kept the Badgers in games when it might have faltered a year ago.

How will it all shake out over the next nine weeks? That’s anybody’s guess, but I am betting there will be some fun games, especially with Minnesota, Northwestern and Purdue showing some signs of being dangerous (but for who knows how long?).

Don’t expect much love from the outside (though ironically College GameDay will be in Big Ten country for the beginning of conference season) for the rest of this season, but then again you’re probably used to that.