A look at this week’s opponent…
Tonight’s game is very simple. You can break it down in every way, but Michigan State is playing Michigan State. Furman is playing entirely with house money. They have nothing to lose and Michigan State has everything to lose. That is why this game is about the six inches that rest between every Spartan’s ears. Can MSU embrace expectations and get a fast start before hitting the breaks with a bye week and heading to South Bend?
For Mark Dantonio the mission is easy. All he needs to do is remind his team of Appalachian State beating Michigan and almost beating #9 Tennessee last night to focus them. Furman will fight.
Dantonio said of Furman, “Furman comes into the football game. You know, they have played in big games there. This is the first time they have played in the Big Ten Conference itself, having played at South Carolina; I'm very familiar with Furman University. Outstanding university. Coach Fowler is in his sixth year now.”
He added, “So when you're in year No. 6, you have a tendency to critique things, have concepts in place and have your program in place. So it's not like they are guessing some things. They know what works. They know what does not work. They have new personnel just like we do, but they also have a lot of players returning.”
Furman Coach Bruce Fowler told me this week about MSU, “I think you look at them until you just accept the reality that they are big, fast and well coached and talented. There is a reason they played in the College Football Playoff last year and have a great chance of getting back this year. They may be overlooked by some nationally in the media, but among coaches and people that can watch tape they aren’t. I can assure you of that.”
When MSU has the ball…
The Spartans are in a very unique situation. They do not want to run the score up, and they will stay incredibly vanilla and show nothing. In the spring, MSU was careful to show nothing new and even avoided showcasing some new players. Yet, they want to get reps for some inexperienced player. It is a true quagmire for Mark Dantonio.
We know that Tyler O’Connor will start and Damion Terry will be the first non-starting QB off the bench, but MSU needs game live reps for Brian Lewerke. I am interested in seeing when the Spartans are able to insert Lewerke.
MSU offensive coordinator Dave Warner said, "You always approach the first game with a lot of anticipation, high expectations obviously, but you are always sort of anxious to see if you are as good as you think you are. So, there are always questions out there. New guys are going to have to step up. It is always great to find out that those guys are going to perform."
Warner elaborated on the Furman defensive scheme adding, "They are very similar to us in terms of a four-down scheme. They play a robber-coverage, similar to us. That is what we are expecting. We have been able to sort of carry through with what we do against our own guys and formulate our game plan at practice that way. That has been a benefit. But, as is the case any first game, you never know for sure until you get out there and see exactly what they are doing."
For the Spartans they would love to run the ball all night with their bigger offensive line and overpower the Paladins. That would get immense experience for a young offensive line and at the same time allow MSU to remain as generic as possible. Unless things go terribly sideways, MSU will show nothing tonight that they don’t want Notre Dame to see and have to game plan for.
One name to watch tonight is Furman safety Trey Robinson. He has NFL talent and it will be interesting to watch how MSU handles him. Not that they can’t, but he will give them a good test if Furman moves him up in run coverage.
When MSU is on defense…
Pressure is the key, not stress. The MSU defense wants to play a ton of players and that will make it very difficult to score a shutout. That is the goal.
Spartan captain Demetrious Cox explained to us how he wants to the see the Spartan defense approach tonight. “Take this chip on our shoulder that we have and let’s have some fun. Let’s come out here and play with some swag, let’s be dominant. Not to knock how last season kind of went, but we did not blow certain teams out and play as well as we should have at times and I really want to emphasize on showing our domination.”
Where does that chip come from Demetrious? “It could come from a lot of places, could come from individually yourself. I feel like I have a lot to play for, a lot to be enthused about. I bet a lot of guys on our team feel the same way. It goes all the way back to last year so on and so forth.”
MSU is looking to dominate. They want to live up to the pressure that Dantonio has put on their heads when he declared this could be his best defense…EVER!
Co-defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett said of the Furman offense, "They are a multiple team, similar to us. They are what we call regular personnel. Two backs, tight end, two wide receivers. And also, they were three wide receivers, one back and a tight end. They had a really, really good fullback last year that they graduated. It is going to be interesting to see if they go more to three receivers, one tight end, one back as opposed to the two backs, one tight end, two wide receivers. So, we will see. I don't think they even list a fullback now, where as before, that guy was an integral part of their offense."
Here is a name I want you to remember from the MSU standpoint. Gabe Sherrod. He is a young man with a monster upside who transferred in. The staff loves his talent, but wants to see it on the big stage. He has a chance to earn some big reps in South Bend and push the Spartan depth chart with a big performance tonight.
One thing that is very underrated about Dantonio since he arrived in East Lansing to lead the Spartans is that he doesn’t lose games he should win. Prior to his arrival in East Lansing the Spartans would get a big upset and flop in these games. That is not the case anymore.
I expect MSU to come and handle Furman. Dantonio has this team ready. This was one of the most physically brutal camps of the Dantonio era and he felt he needed to do that to send a message.
How brutal? There will possibly be some familiar names NOT playing as they recover from camp. That is fine.
Furman is playing with house money and they can take risks. If the Spartans suffer some miscues and Furman has some risks go right, do the Spartans get tight and panic or simple steamroll?
With Michigan State planning on playing so many young players it is very difficult to predict a shutout. However, Furman knows a win here would be a MAJOR upset. How long does Furman play starters and risk against a bigger, faster, and much more physical Spartan team getting them injured for upcoming winnable games?
I say 45-6 Michigan State!