Scouting Report and Prediction: Michigan State 6-5 vs. Rutgers 1-10

Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard
Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard

Scouting Report and Prediction: Michigan State 6-5 vs. Rutgers 1-10

A look at this week’s opponent…

The Rutgers Scarlett Knights are terrible. If they were arrested for being a division one football team, there wouldn’t be evidence to convict them. Their school has some great people, but simply are not even competitive in the two big sports (football & men’s basketball) in the conference. They would schedule themselves if they could for homecoming.

I don’t care about the weather. MSU needs a big day, or Mark Dantonio needs only to come to the podium and declare that he has fired his entire offensive staff not named Terrence Samuel. This game is about MSU and Rutgers should only be the victim.

Dantonio’s team is down. They came in with self-expressed goals of another Big Ten title and College Football Playoff appearance. The defense has lived up to it. The offensive players and staff have not.

Dantonio said of expectations for this weekend, “So right now, what I'm looking for is a response, a response from our players, coaches, our staff, people that are involved, and you know, when you get knocked down, you get back up, and that's the message of this football game, of the game of football, not easy. I've said that many times coming in here, it's not easy. You put a 320-pound guy on your nose and ask him to move him or ask him to get a pass rush or whatever it is on either side of the ball, you've got to be able to do those things and that comes with intensity.”

Rutgers Coach Chris Ash is a very good coach, in a tough place to win. He said of this week, “I've got a lot of respect for the program and the job that Coach Dantonio has done year after year after year there. I've been fortunate to coach in a lot of really big games against Michigan State as a defensive coordinator, and again, I've got a lot of respect for what he's done and his staff has done there. They're well-coached. They're disciplined. They can run the ball, they play great defense. They're good on special teams.”

When MSU has the ball…

Last week MSU ran the ball with success in the first three quarters. Without common sense, they went against the wind in the fourth quarter and simply abandoned it. That is offensive play calling malpractice. No excuse. If they had been passing but went against the wind in the fourth you could justify it. But not that.

Dantonio was asked about it this week. Did he regret it and he said, “I wish for a lot of things. They don't come true. I can't turn the clock back.”

He added, “I sit there and say, you know, usually, I've said on occasion, I've said, hey, we've got two downs here; we've got two downs here, run it. But on third down, on the last third down, I was busy trying to figure out, can he make the field goal from that depth.”

He continued, “And so, we didn't know whether we were going to go up for it on fourth down or not go for it on fourth down, because I didn't have an answer on that; the answer was slow and coming. So with third and four, it's a high percentage pass down for most teams, and so we throw it, and it was dropped. I mean, it was -- you know, it was dropped, so execution.”

He concluded with, “But yeah, when you look back at it, you look at things like that and say, wish we could have done this and wish we could have done that. But you know, I don't have an answer for you. I wish, yeah. I'm not counting -- I'm not counting in that point in time. I'm trying to listen and move the football and do everything I can do on this side as a head coach to try and give our players an opportunity to win. So we had some drops. I think we make those catches, I don't think we're talking about it.” An interesting answer to say the least.

MSU should be able to do whatever they want. If the weather is bad, they should be able to run. If they stack the box, they should be able to execute a nice controlled passing game.

MSU fans should expect three-quarters of great offensive football against a horrible Rutgers team by Rocky Lombardi and watch Theo Day get his feet wet in the fourth.

When MSU is on defense…

Rutgers has a QB controversy like MSU does. Dantonio talked about addressing that with his team saying, “ I think we look at everything that they do and ask, does their offense change, regardless of who is the quarterback, and even if it doesn't change, what do they do a little bit more when so-and-so is the quarterback. Like Rescigno probably scrambles a little bit more than Sitkowski, or something to that effect.”

He continued, “I think they are going to play the guy that gives them the best chance to win, and that's what they are going to do. I've been impressed with their running backs. Blackshear is a dynamic receiver, two leads, rushing and receiving. Playing better on the defensive side of the ball.”

He concluded with, “Again, they are an improved football team. I would not play into what their record is right now. They are an improved football team, and it should be recognized that Coach Ash, I believe, got an extension, I believe, and should be congratulated for that.”

Bottom line: MSU D is great, Rutgers offense is not. MSU will own the Scarlett Knights. They need a pick six, a dumb mistake or coaching blunders to score. If they get to 10, it will be a massive disappointment.


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 win 91% of ball games.

The MSU punt return game is terrible. It isn’t bad, it is terrible. They are 102nd in the nation. It is the only part of the MSU game that is worse than the offense. I asked Mark Dantonio about it this week.

Hondo Carpenter: Since you came 12 years ago, you've educated the fan base that football is a game of inches and you have to look for hidden yardage. Another area is you've talked about is punt being the most important play in the game. You've not hesitated when Shakur fumbled, and he hasn't seen the field as a punt returner since.But consistently, for multiple games, punts are being allowed to roll and you're losing unbelievable amounts of yardage. Because Brandon hasn't been benched, that tells us you're allowing it. Why is it that that's allowed and how do you fix that?
HEAD COACH MARK DANTONIO: Well, first of all, I don't know if it's the greenhouse effect or whatever, but we've had unbelievable winds in every single game we've had: Weather, winds, snow, rain, everything. We put two returners back there at times. We put one returner back there at times.

Brandon, it's very difficult, if you've ever taken a ball off a JUGS machine, you know how difficult it is to catch a punt and you've got to be able to judge it. He does a good job of judging it. You're seeing it over-use -- not an over-use. You're seeing an explosion of rugby-style punters from Australia. Their punts go from over here to over there to straight on, based on where you're at in a lot of respects.

So you're not seeing as many punt returns across the country as you have in the past. You have gunners running -- we call them gunners but people running down on the outside that's got to be held up. So you're seeing people pressure our returners.

They have put the ball down inside the 10. That's a tough one. Nebraska did it twice on Saturday. You know, William, our punter, we're just getting it up and out. But there's a method to that and there's a technique to that, and people grow to that.

But you know, a lot of those type of things are, can we hold up the people coming down. You don't want to catch the ball inside the 10. He could have caught one, but that ball was over his head.

And I've always told those guys -- and that's me -- I always told them, the most important thing about our punt return game is: No fakes, absolutely no fakes. No penalties, and we almost jumped off-sides on fourth and four. No penalties, because that sets you back an additional 15 yards or gives them a first down; and get the ball back. Get the ball back.

So we're trying to fix it with the ten-yard rule but sometimes you have to give them credit, too. They have players on scholarship and they have a plan, too.

I remember Mike Sadler when he was here, he put 20 punts down inside the 10, and nobody had an answer for it. So sometimes the punt is going to die inside the 10, and they had two and Ohio State had five. You know, congratulations to them, but I don't think that's the norm. We need to be able to return punts and get a guy. I thought Shak maybe had something but you can't put a guy in and turn the ball over.

It's a very -- it's taken for granted, but it's a very precarious situation when you're in front of 70,000 people catching a ball hanging up in the clouds and especially in the wind. And the wind factors; I guess going back to what I tell them, if you don't get your feet square, if you don't get your shoulders square, and you're not at a stationary position to catch the ball, okay, don't try and catch it on the run over your shoulder. It's too difficult. That's what we told them.

So that's on me maybe. But I do believe that we're coaching it -- not allowing it, coaching it. But there is risk and reward there.

Extra Point…

Mark Dantonio is a good and honorable man. He has earned the right to do whatever he wants with his staff. But, the Nebraska game was proof, that while he can do whatever he wants, so can the donors and those that purchase tickets. If he doesn’t make changes, and his track record suggests he won’t, tickets sales and donations are going to be brutal next year. I have spoken to so many donors that have contacted me and season ticket holders. It isn’t good. He can do what he wants and so can they. Not doing anything means many of them would.

Dantonio said this week, “We've had 50,000 fans there at a spring game. I don't ask for much times. I just keep moving in the direction forward, but you know, this is a moment for our seniors. It's Senior Day. I think our seniors really have experienced everything.”

Secondary ticket brokers can’t give these tickets away. They are selling for as low as $1. I know internally they are hoping for 50,000. I will be pleasantly shocked if they get over 30,000. Dantonio has every right to do what he wants, but so do fans when his program, his offense does not. Fans bought the tickets. If fans don’t show up they are letting him know what they think. He said last week he won’t be moved by fans or media and I agree that he shouldn’t. But will they send a message to him this week that they aren’t buying in by not showing up? We shall see. The tickets for this year are sold. They are not for next year. With this being the last game, that can send them into next season on a downward trajectory. This is going to be a fascinating thing to watch on Saturday.

Win or lose the post-game press conference could be very telling.


Last week MSU had five 15 yard personal fouls type penalties. They speak to not being focused and being emotional. That is how Rutgers beats MSU. Terrible play calling, poor execution and undisciplined dumb mistakes.

Dantonio said of last week’s penalty debacle that, “You know, those are the things that we have to learn, and as I said, you know, you learn the hard way because not only does that impact the football game; that impacts maybe where you go as a team in the Bowl structure. That impact is a long-lasting impact, and our players need to see that and understand that and see that on the video, and they saw it. They visually saw it and heard about it yesterday. And that's the message to everybody. They are not bad people. They are not bad kids. But we're going to make mistakes, and we're all going to pay for those mistakes. You've just got to continue to educate.”

Ash won’t even talk about winning. That tells you how bad Rutgers is. When asked this week about his 1-10 team trying to finish with a win he said, “We've got to play cleaner football. We've got to take care of the football. We've got to try to score some points. We're focused on those things. If we do those things, then wins will come, whether it be this Saturday or next year. Those are the things we have to focus on. We're not focused on, hey, we have to win against Michigan State. Do we want to? Absolutely. But we're focused on the things that allow us to try to get that done.”

Doesn’t matter who starts. MSU should dominate and own lowly Rutgers. Terrible Illinois put up 38 and lowly Kansas put up 55. Make it 45-0 MSU!

In my talking with the Bowl people, I am hearing that with a win it is 75% MSU goes to the Outback and 25% they go to the Gator Bowl. If they lose, 10% of the Outback and 90% chance of the Gator.

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