Scouting Report and Prediction: #18/21 Michigan State 2-1 vs. CMU 1-3

Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard
Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard

Scouting Report and Prediction: #18/21 Michigan State2-1 vs. CMU 1-3

A look at this week’s opponent…

The #18/21 Michigan State Spartans continue their pursuit and march towards a Big Ten title and a return to the College Football Playoff. That was their stated goal prior to the season, and while their play and coaching have certainly brought that goal into question, it is not unattainable.

Dantonio said of playing the Chips this week that, “CMU this week, comes in, it's always been a big game for us, rivalry-game type thing. Going all the way back, there's been some great games. Right now they are a 1-3 football team. I don't think that's indicative of who they are, good concepts. Coach Bonamego does an outstanding job getting his guys ready to play. A lot of guys on their roster from the state of Michigan, much like ours, so you have an instant rivalry-type situation, in terms of guys have played against each other in high school and that type of thing.”

He went on to add that “They have played Kentucky, played Kentucky tough. I felt the game at halftime, they were right there, I think I believe ahead of them, played Northern Illinois tough, played Kansas and game got away from them a little bit because of turnovers and they defeated Maine this past weekend. I'm sure that they will be ready to play and we'll take some questions on that in a second.”

When MSU has the ball…

The MSU rushing attack and offensive line have been bad. That is true. But it isn’t an excuse to point out that the two most important OL spots (center and left tackle) are both gone from last year. Cole Chewins (LT) because of injury and Brian Allen (center) to the NFL. While I am NOT reporting his return as certain, they expect Chewins to be back.

Arizona State said that they, “Knew” what MSU was going to do in the red zone and had a strong inclination on offense outside of it. Indiana talked about “knowing” what MSU was going to do.

So I asked Dantonio about the “Predictability” of his offense and offensive play calling and if the Spartans need to do more self-scouting. He said, “We look at everything. Things that we do, things that they do, how it was approached, perimeter plays, run plays, inside run, three-step passing, third down, how we got the third-and-long, if we got the third-and-long, what were our percentages on third-and-long, you name it, we're trying to look at it, quarterback under center, quarterback in the gun, back set strong, back set weak. So we are looking at every different aspect to try and stay, and try to give us a variance of things.”

He added, “Sometimes that comes from practicing and you may not see it in a game. You may not see it effectively done in a game, but still, what do you do well; and what does your people understand, what habits do they have in terms of knowledge-based so they can execute based on repetition.”

Dantonio went on to say, “Because without question, football is a game of repetition. So yeah, when somebody says, hey, we're going to look at your red zone for a full year, two years, they are going to have a general idea of what you're going to do. But there needs some variance in that, and you need to be able to split things they do and you're watching what they do.”

He finished with, “From an offensive perspective, you go in and look at a particular formation and say, how did they play this formation in 12 games worth of studying? And then you come up with a plan and sometimes the plan works and sometimes it doesn't. Usually it's execution or somebody makes a great play, one side or the other, but that's football.”

I asked MSU OL Coach Mark Staten this week about people overlooking Chewins absence combined with Allen. “You've known me for years I won't make any excuses. I'm a Randy Walker, God rest his soul, thumb-pointer, and so I've got to do a better job of leading these guys from the sidelines and making sure and going over each thing they see, each play and as we go through the week giving them that confidence and that is something that you know that left tackle is a key position in anybody's system. Tyler (Higby) had been playing that since the spring and this last week went out and had a great game.”

Staten added of the CMU defense that, “Their front seven is very good, better than you want them to be as an O-line coach and you look at Fountain (CMU linebacker Malik Fountain) in the middle, you know All-MAC guy. This is his fourth year starting and I don't know how vocal he is, but he leads with his play and he's a very physical linebacker and you look across the board, they have a new starter in #17 (Alex Briones), but he's flying around I mean he played a lot of their Delta package last year so we've seen him in film from last year and then their front four, they fly around, they're solid you know we've got to come to work. As we all know from being in this state there's nine of those eleven that come from the state of Michigan and we knew a lot of them just through the recruiting and watching film and things like that. They're goal is to come out and prove to us that we were wrong in letting them go up to Mount Pleasant. That's a little added deal so we've got to work hard from the get go and do what we do.”

When watching the Chippewas on film, Spartan quarterback Brian Lewerke said that he sees a defense that mixes up its coverages well and said he has to be ready to identify those coverages on the fly when he’s out on the field on Saturday.

“They run a variety of defenses or coverages,” he said. “They’re an over-front team, they run Cover 4, Cover 3, Cover 1, all of the above. So you just have to recognize it when you get out on the field.”

Felton Davis told Spartan Nation that he’s not overlooking the Central Michigan defense going into Saturday’s game, but maintains confident on a week-to-week basis.

“Everybody’s got athleticism, I try and treat everybody the same,” he said. “I personally feel like there shouldn’t be anybody that can guard you, not the best, Richard Sherman. I’m not calling Richard Sherman or anything, but I’m just saying, you can line anybody up and I feel like I can take them.”

MSU will try to run and if they can great. But if not, I want to see if the Spartans stay stubborn and let CMU hand around until they have to pass to run, or if they change quickly.

When MSU is on defense…

The Spartans are all that we thought they would be. Dantonio praised his D saying this week that, “I think we're No. 1 in the nation and No. 1 in the conference, certainly, against the run, so we've stopped the run effectively. We've tackled well. We're starting to pressure the quarterback more effectively. I think we played three very good quarterbacks that can throw the ball. So our numbers there might not indicate our success, but we've not had a lot of big plays against us. We've got to cut down on penalties.”

DE Coach Chuck Bullough said of the Chips that, “I played Central last year (while coaching at Eastern Michigan), Coach (Paul) Haynes played them, Coach (Don) Treadwell played them (while coaching at Kent State), so we have some guys on the staff here that have experience against Central Michigan. I just remember from the game, number five (CMU running back Jonathan Ward), preparing for him, he was a lot better in person, so I'm telling players on film he's really good, but he's really good when we ended up in the game. They've got two quarterbacks, and which quarterback is going to play, so they've got us guessing a little bit.”

Bonamego said this week about the Spartan D that, “They’ve played some really good passing teams, some teams that have got both good trigger men and explosive receiving talent. Michigan State is a very, very good football team.”

The MSU D must simply keep doing what they are doing. They are superior to the CMU opponent and will dominate. Unless the MSU offense has turnover issues and keeps giving the Chips great field position.

Intangibles…

Remember the rule of five. If MSU wins that, this game is over. For those who don’t remember it, it has to do with sacks and turnovers. If the Spartans have three sacks and give up two that means they are plus one. If they then get four turnovers and give up only one that means they are plus three. That would give them a plus four for the day. They want to get to a plus-five ratio at least every game.

CMU is going to pass… a lot. Bullough said of the need for the pressure that, “Oh we've got some big boys inside now, that always helps the defensive ends because they can't come out and double you. So we all work together, then they've got to go out and try to block Kenny (Willekes), now that gives them a little bit more one-on-one's. So we play off each other.”

Mark Dantonio signaled a shift in philosophy this week. He has ALWAYS been about securing the ball and playing mistake-free. In fact, I can report that he and his staff butted heads with Connor Cook who would take some chances.

After a five-turnover performance by QB Brian Lewerke last week, Dantonio was asked if his star QB took to many chances. He startled many saying, “So you've got to take the good with the bad I think in that case. But I still think he makes a lot of plays for us, a ton of plays for us, and he's delivering the ball I think to a very large extent on time and in the right place.”

He also said of Lewerke, “He's got to know when to check the ball down. He's got some guys coming on short crossers that he's got to hit that are open. He held the ball a little bit too long.”

Extra Point…

Bonamego said this week think it means more to the in-state kids that are on both teams,” CMU has won three times against MSU by playing the respect card. MSU can lose this game if they keep CMU around.

MSU has four coaches who either coached for CMU last year (Special Teams Analyst Shayne Graham) or coached against them at other schools in Don Treadwell, Paul Haynes and Chuck Bullough.

That is something I asked Staten about for preparation this week. “I think the knowledge of the play, the players and the knowledge of being able to say 'this guy was doing this' or this scheme is susceptible to this or this scheme is susceptible to that and then the other thing, Shayne, we have Shayne Graham who's actually been working up there so that's been a tremendous help this year as well.”

Here is another intangible. Mark Dantonio in all of the time that I have known him does not call out his coaches. I think he should more. That said, it is his staff and choice. After the loss to ASU when I asked about his OL his said that you had to question coaches first and added emphatically, “Especially the coaching.”

This week he was asked specifically about play calling and for the first time he called it out. Saying, “As far as the play before the fake field goal, the race play into the boundary, you know, probably a bad call.” That may not seem like a Nick Saban but whipping of Lane Kiffin, but that is enormous from Dantonio. He knows this team has a very slim margin and I expect him to add to his coaches’ sense of urgency.

I agree with the Spartan QB that a fast start is important. Lewerke said a fast start will be a major key into holding down an upset-minded Central Michigan squad.

“We just have to make sure we come out hot,” he said. “Try and carry the intensity that we got from the win last week and bring it to this one. Come right out of the gate ready to go.”

Prediction…

George Perles was fond of saying that when playing a school from the MAC, especially from the state of Michigan, “They feel like they should have come to MSU and they want to show you that you were wrong. This is their Super Bowl.”

I agree with him. Bonamego doesn’t. I asked him about Perles quote earlier this week and he told me, “I would say that I never had any desires to go to Michigan State.”

In 1991, 1992 and again in 2009 the Chips have come to MSU and beat the Spartans. In 1991 and 1992 the Spartans simply overlooked them. In 2009 they were better and I predicted the Spartan loss.

MSU is better this year, but if they let CMU hang around, the “Perles” rule can hurt them again. MSU must come out and dominate. Foot on the gas and go. If Brian Lewerke plays at all in the fourth quarter, this game did not go as scripted or how it should have.

To me this game is simple. I stick with my gut and predict MSU keep the ship and the season back on course. In the end, I say MSU wins this 44-17. Chips make it closer than it was with a late TD against the third string.

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