Scouting Report and Prediction: Michigan State 6-4 vs. Nebraska 3-7
A look at this week’s opponent…
The Spartan season is not going to end in a Big Ten title or a trip to the College Football Playoff as they had hoped and expected. But it isn’t over. Dantonio has what many think is an easy choice at QB, but he isn’t known to take the easy road.
He said of his QB situation this week, “First of all, in regard to quarterback decisions, might as well get that out of the way so I don't have to be asked about it. When we make a decision on the quarterback, first of all when anybody is hurt or battling through any kind of injury, we're going to first of all talk to our doctors, our (athletic) trainers, the family, the player, outside consultants, specialists, anybody that is involved in the decision-making process.”
He continued, “Then at that point in time we're going to make a decision. That decision is going to be based first of all on his safety, which should be well documented with the number of players that we've had out this year, and then secondly on his ability to compete and play at a high level, and our ability to win with that individual.”
He added, “So we make decisions. As we go forward those decisions become complicated at times, but we do the very best we can and everybody is involved. I don't really think it's in this team's best interest to air those decisions prior to football games. I think that's something that needs to be kept in-house for everybody's best benefit. So that's how I handle those things. Really that's my response on those things.”
Dantonio didn’t want a QB controversy. I said he should have come out at the beginning and said, “We have no controversy. When Brian Lewerke is back to 100% he is our guy, but until then it is Rocky Lombardi.” He didn’t. Now his team is stuck right in the middle of a controversy. Indecisiveness, made this a quagmire, a self-inflicted injury that didn’t need to be.
When MSU has the ball…
I asked Dantonio a poignant, but a fair question about his offense. Here is the exact question and answer.
Hondo S. Carpenter, Sr... Mark, in 2014, your offense was rated 11th in the country, and through the years it's gone from there to 73rd, 75th, 91st and now 111th. Can you explain why?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, I can look at it and say first of all last year we had some production, especially from our quarterback position and wide receiver positions. This year I would say it's the injuries. It's always something; every year you're going to deal with something. A lot of things are predicated in how your quarterback plays, that's college football. That's pro football. That's high school football. If your quarterback is playing well, you're going to be successful, usually.
So there's a lot of things that go into that. Receivers, timing, offensive line protection, the ability to run the ball consistently or at least well enough. So that's an easy question to ask, probably a difficult question to answer and probably would be best -- that's why you do self-scouts and spring evaluations and all those different type of things. We need to be better, but we're playing -- I would say right now we're playing at the highest level of college football, the competition level that we play into.
Brian Lewerke to his credit has been straightforward about his injury. He has told the media when he just couldn’t make the throws. Dantonio was asked by another media member about that. Here is the question and answer in its entirety.
Q: Relative to the quarterback situation, after the game we talked to Brian (Lewerke) and he said to us -- I don't think we were leading him there, but he said to us at some point he didn't feel like he could make the throws, or his arm wasn't as strong as Rocky (Lombardi)'s at some point in that game. Is it wise if a guy can't make all the throws to keep playing him if he physically can't get it done?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, again, another tough question for the coach. You know, as you go through things and you go through practice, you know, you're trying to watch practice and watch and see if guys can make the plays, and there is a base foundation for everybody. I've always tried to be the guy that's -- the coach that's going to, number one, protect our quarterback. Hopefully, physically as much as we can from a protection standpoint and play call, things of that nature, and secondly from an emotional standpoint, public standpoint.
So I'm going to stay with the quarterback that has brought us a certain amount of level of success. I think that's warranted to do that. I'll go back to what I said before: We talk to the player, we talk to the coach, the coach is involved, we talk to the doctors, the (athletic) trainers, the outside specialist, the family, and we make best decisions and what we think are the best decisions to win. When you get to a point in the game and you see how things are playing out, you may have to alter your decisions, and that's what we try and do. I don't want to be led in that direction by fans or by media. I'm going to make those decisions on what I think is best. "Wise" is a tough word to use. Is it wise? I do the best I can to make good decisions which help us win football games. I thought he could fit it in tight windows, I thought he had velocity. Is he injured or hurt? He's probably hurt more than injured, you know? So who is not hurt at this point in the season a little bit? Some guys play through a little bit of that pain, and that's what he's tried to do, and he should be applauded for that.
I'm going to make the best decisions possible. I put Rocky in the game, when it became apparent, wanted to give him one more series and went in that direction and -- probably elaborating on this too much. When we had a couple of turnovers, went back the other direction.
Frost said of the battle between Lewerke and Lombardi that, “They both do a good job watching them. They’ve been kind of bit by the injury bug particularly on the offensive side of the ball, unfortunate for them. I remember Lewerke coming out of high school from Pinnacle in Arizona, and I went and watched him and was impressed with him, so I know what kind of player he is. I don’t think their offense is going to change much based on which guy is in there, and both of them are capable of doing good things on the field.”
MSU WR Coach Terrence Samuel said of the Husker D, “Well, the first thing is just how they've been getting better week by week. They play hard. They're all over the place. You've got a big corner, sitting about 6-3, and then you've got a fast corner that I think presents some problems but those safeties are built like little tanks, they're going to come up and they're going to hit you and they're physical. For us, we have to be on our P's and Q's and take care of our techniques.”
If MSU starts Lombardi he will have better field position from a rested D and his ability to throw and play will set the run-up via the pass. If he starts, people will be talking about the MSU running game when it is over. That is due to his ability to set up the run with the pass. Teams have been loading the box against Lewerke.
When MSU is on defense…
MSU DC Mike Tressel gave a thorough look at the Huskers. He said, “They're explosive. They have multiple tailbacks, multiple receivers, obviously, a quarterback that all are big play capable. I think it's a leading receiving tandem in the Big Ten. A basically 1,000-yard rusher and another guy who can break the game at any point. A quarterback that keeps the plays alive and has a threat with his feet as well as a strong arm, so I think that they're top 15 for sure in the nation in total offense. Their offense is rolling right now.”
Tressel said of the explosive and elusive Husker offense that, “It doesn't get any easier it doesn't seem like, there's no doubt about it. You have a broken tackle film that you watch, and these guys have made people look silly in space and you watch the explosive play cut-ups, they're near the tops of the league in explosive passes and explosive runs so there's no doubt. You don't have to pay attention to anything but watch them on film and you know there's a lot of guys who make big plays. The magic number that we've seen is when they've had eight or more explosive plays, they're winning, explosive plays being a 20-yard pass, 15-yard runs. You have to limit those with these guys, and that's easier said than done.”
Despite the rebuilding process in Lincoln, Tressel said of their talent at the skill spots, “That's the thing. It's across the board skill wise. It's two receivers that both have 60-plus catches. Two tailbacks who are on the field sometimes at the same time who can be game-breakers and make you miss tackles, and they really run through tackles. Then a quarterback who does it with his feet and his arms. Put that all together and you're spread thing.”
Dantonio said of the Husker offense and looking at what Frost did at Oregon, “You look at what Oregon has done against us in '14 and '15, and you can put that in context, put that in your cut-ups, evaluate that separately and together and see if there are things that carryover there, and there are characteristics there of what they do, and make sure that you're covering all bases.”
He went on to add, “Different players, but similarities. No question there are some similarities. I think that probably is the same thing they're doing, looking at, okay, this is the defense that played against them in '14 and '15 and carrying that forward.”
Frost said of the MSU D having faced them while he was at Oregon, “Oh it has changed. They’re still doing the same things just not as consistently, it was pretty much a quarters outfit with some third-down pressure when I played them, coaching against them all those years ago. They mix in more man now, there’s a little more first and second-down pressure, a little more single high, they’re just a little more multiple and mix it up a little more. They’ve changed their quarter’s coverage a little bit. I mean you still recognize it as the same outfit, but I think they’ve gotten better since then.”
Frost went on to add, “This is close to or as good as the best defenses we’ve faced all year. I’ve only watched them for one day and I’ve got a ton of respect for what they do. They know their schemes and they know their issues, places that people try to hit them and they have answers for that. The best thing about them, they get 11 guys playing hard and sprinting to the football, they don’t give up big plays, we have to be on our game to create them and have to be ready to sustain some drives if we need to.”
Husker freshman QB Adrian Martinez is a star in the making. I will be stunned if he doesn’t win a Heisman. He is that special. But not yet. He has flashed, but no freshmen is that consistent?
Martinez says of the MSU D, “I have seen a little bit of tape on them. We are just kind of starting to dive into it, our meetings are later today. They are a solid crew, obviously, they have a good defense there and there are some tough dudes so it will be a good match-up for our offense.”
He added, “That is something we will look at in our breakdown, and I feel like we have the weapons in our offense to counter anything they want to bring at us. I feel confident in the guys that we have in our scheme.”
Tressel said of Martinez, “I think he's got a lot of confidence right now, as he should. I think once he was perfectly healthy and was the guy full time, it just started to increase exponentially. The beginning of the year he was banged up a little bit. I think finally maybe week four, the Purdue game, he was full time "the guy" healthy and its grown fast since then.”
Husker OL Jerald Foster says of the MSU D that, “We have heard this is the best run-stop defense in the nation, so that is fun. It’s going to be a whole lot of fun to be able to play against a stout group like that. I don’t see us changing up anything in our game, we are still going to work and try to get the run accomplished. You saw what Devine (Ozigbo) did last week and him being the Big Ten Player of the Week, I think we will be all right on the run game, as long as that guy is running like he usually does.”
MSU will challenge Martinez to beat them with his arm. Unable to run against the Spartans this year, he is going to be a star, but not against a rested MSU D if Lombardi starts.
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. Teams that win the rule of five wins 91% of ball games.
Frost has the Husker creating turnovers in a major way now. He attributes it to, “We’re just ball-aware now. You can preach it until you’re blue in the face but you have to have it in the back of your mind when you come in and you’re the first or second guy coming into a tackle to not just clean up the tackle but try and get a hand on a ball. That mentality’s got to be ever-present to keep getting balls out. We’re starting to get more guys with their eyes on the ball in zone coverage, they’re rallying to balls better so we’re getting more hats there. Guys are aware of where a guy’s holding it, second guys in are taking slaps at it. That’s how this thing is going to be successful if our offense can keep improving. We don’t have to stop somebody every time we’re out there but if you get one or two big breaks, big turnovers and the offense can capitalize on those you can separate in the game. That worked out well for us on Saturday.”
The atmosphere in Lincoln is amazing. 105,000 people that are loud, but kind. No F bombs, the will cheer good performances of opponents. It is like nothing in sports. Tressel said of preparing his players for that, “It's funny, I had never experienced anything like it before I was there the first time too. It's different. I think what you have to do is you have to realize that that's all part of the game how nice they are to you pre-game, how they welcome you, how they try to make you feel at home, they're trying to soften your armor a little bit. I mean, you have to look at it like its part of the game. If you look at it that way and feel like they're actually disrespecting us by being this nice to us (smiling), if you look at it that way, it's all just good. Trying to set you up.”
Dantonio said about the environment in Lincoln that, “We talk about that as we get closer to the game. I think it's like playing in any of these places, difficult to play but great venue, excited to play. When you go away in this conference you're going to play in front of big crowds and crowds that are very passionate about their football teams. You get to experience that as well in this conference. That's part of playing in this conference.”
Take a look at the numbers from last week when Brian Lewerke started and Rocky Lombardi did not. I said in my prediction that if Lombardi started they would win and if he didn’t they would lose. I was right.
Vs. Ohio State
Brian Lewerke (3 QTRs)
Production/Touch 3.88 yards per touch for Lewerke.
Give Brian Rocky’s Reps Add 22 attempts@ 3.88 85 + 132 = 217 yards of total offense w/Rocky’s Reps
Rocky Lombardi (1 QTR +1:38)
Production/Touch 6.45 yards per touch
Give Rocky Brian’s Reps Add 34 Attempts @6.45 219 +142 = 361 yards total offense w/Brian’s Reps
Not taking into account great field position vs horrible field position my guess is if the field position had changed these numbers would be even greater. These are simple real numbers.
If Rocky Lombardi starts, and MSU goes on the attack I predict MSU wins 31-17. It will fire up his team and he will lead them to victory. Since I do not believe Lewerke is at or near 100% throwing the ball, if he starts, I expect a 24-13 Nebraska win.
Want the latest breaking MSU news delivered straight to your email for FREE? Sign up for the DAILY Spartan Nation newsletterWHEN YOU CLICK RIGHT HERE!Don’t miss any of the latest up to the second updates on Michigan State Sports when you follow on Twitter @HondoCarpenter