Saturday, April 28, 2012

Spartan Spring Game Analysis

Sparty totes the rock!
The Green and White game end with a final score of 14-2, with the White squad coming away with the victory. As predicted, defense ruled the day as both units limited scoring opportunities. The best players on this Spartan football team reside on the defensive side of the ball. The lone 2 points for the Green team came from DE William Gholston who stopped RB Nick Hill in the end zone which resulted in a safety.

For the White squad junior LB Denicos Allen led the team with 7 tackles and batted down 2 passes. Sophomore DE Marcus Rush had 5 tackles (3 for a loss), including 2.5 sacks. Also, sophomore DB Mylan Hicks had an interception for team White.

The two touch downs for the White team came from WR Andre Sims Jr. and RB Nick Hill. Sims, Jr. caught a TD late in the first half and Hill ran 32 yards for score in the 3rd.

Backup QB Connor Cook played for both teams. He finished 20 for 45 passing for 294 yards, 1 TD. This was great experience for the red shirt freshman who commanded the offense well. Cook needs to improve his reads and accuracy down field. Not sure if it was the routing running or just tough defense, but there were not many completions from deep. The one exception was a highlight catch by WR Keith Mumphery who made a great grab going to the ground. The completion from Cook to Mumphery was for 38 yards.

Overall it was nice to get an early look at who is representing MSU this year. They look like a confident bunch with real speed on both sides of the ball. However, the passing game needs to be more in sync. Had starting QB Andrew Maxwell been available the passing game would have been significantly better. What ever the case, improving the passing game is a point of emphasis for the coaching staff so I'm confident they will have it together after summer camp.

The injury bug did strike on some key guys after the game. As Gholston (bruised knee), Larry Caper (minor concussion), and Denzel Drone (leg) nursed injuries.

The Spartans will gain more depth over the summer as the 2012 recruiting class officially joins the MSU football team. 

Check out the 2012 Spartan recruiting class here.

Final stats for the Green and White game: www.msuspartans.com

On a side note...there was nice light moment in the 2nd quarter when Coach Mark Dantonio allowed Sparty (yes, that "Sparty!") to take a hand off out of the back field. Sparty ended up coughing the ball up which result in a Gholston recovery and TD, which obviously didn't count. It was cool to see Dantonio have some fun with his guys. The coach and his team are definitely comfortable and confident being Spartans.

Photos courtesy of www.facebook.com/MSUathletics

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Easy Fix to the BCS?


ESPN.com reports that commissioners from the 11 Football Bowl Subdivisions conferences are considering a proposal that would use a selection committee to choose the teams for a potential four-team playoff.

I believe this is just a small band aide being placed over a gaping wound. The BCS has already been challenged as a non-inclusive monopoly that operates purely out of money and power. Now they want to add a four-team playoff for the national championship to keep the bowl system and more importantly the BCS system in tact. The proposed -team playoff is a another word for a 'plus-one' game that would still leave a number of top 10 teams questioning whether or not they truly had a fair shot at the title.

Here is the official statement from the BCS on eliminating the proposed 8 and 16 team playoffs:
"Having carefully reviewed calendars and schedules, we believe that either an eight-team or a 16-team playoff would diminish the regular season and harm the bowls. College football's regular season is too important to diminish and we do not believe it's in the best interest of student-athletes, fans, or alumni to harm the regular season. Accordingly, as we proceed to review our options for improving the postseason, we have taken off the table both an eight-team and 16-team playoff."
The main argument for not expanding the playoff field is that the commissioners do not want to diminish the regular season or harm the bowl system. In what sport does a regular not matter when there are playoffs at the end? If you have a losing regular season, you miss the playoffs! The fewer games you play (which college football does playing 13 games or fewer) to make the post season makes each one even that more important (seems to work out for the NFL just fine). Saving the bowl system? I'll address that in my proposal below. 

It bothers me that 60 and 70 year old commissioners are making decisions for modern-day changes. I do not want to pigeon-hole these 'distinguished' commissioners, but let's just say the old-timers like to keep things the same. However, I do like the idea of a selection committee for determining teams participating in a playoff. The selection committee only works if the right people are chosen. 

Who really needs to be involved in deciding the fate of post season college football play?

Along with the conference commissioners, there needs to be more college head coaches and former head coaches involved in the process. Too many times actual football people are left out of discussions where their opinions and input could really matter. How else can you gauge the state of the college game without asking those who are on the field playing the games? Also, how about getting thoughts from former and current college football players about the effects or non-effects of playing additional post-season games. I'd like to see more university athletic directors involved  in discussions as well.  

Here's my proposal:

1.) Kill the current bowl system. The bowl system to me is equivalent to everyone getting a trophy in a youth soccer league. In the current bowl almost every Division I team is involved, but we all know that the only game truly matters is the Rose Bowl I mean BCS Championship game. I know playing in bowl games brings in lots of money, but they are other ways to get corporate sponsors and advertising dollars. Mainly by putting out a product that captives people in wanting to attend or watch on TV. That's what the NCAA basketball tournament has done for years. There are also alternative routes that need to be explored like inter-conference tournaments (i.e. ACC/Big Ten Challenge) and 4-8 team corporate sponsored tournaments (Maui Invitation, Cowboy Stadium Classic). All options are revenue generators that can be played before the conference schedule starts.

2.) Use the Division II model for football playoffs where 24 teams play for the championship. The teams are broken up in to 4 regions containing 6 teams. The #1 and #2 seeds are given first round byes with the other teams playing each other according to seed. See the bracket break down here.

Using this 24 team playoff format allows elite teams from the powers conference to have a chance to compete as well as giving non-BCS conference teams a chance (Boise State, TCU, Utah).

I suggest playing rounds 1 and 2 on the higher seeds home field. Those games would take place mid to late November. The quarterfinal and semifinal games would be play at the end of December or early January. This would give players and fans a break in between for rest and travel.

3.) Eliminate all conference championship games and play 2 less regular season games. Playing less games during the regular season will free up teams to play additional post-season games. Playoffs could be played in November and resume for champion play at end of December or early January. As I stated before, the less regular season games played makes each one that much more important. Plus, it rids the system of 'cupcake' scheduling.

Conference champions from the 6 power conferences would be automatics. Cases where there are two-way or three-way ties would not matter because the selection committee would look at each conference champion on a case by case basis.

4.) Use the current BCS bowl games for national quarterfinal and semifinal games. For example 4 teams would go to Sugar Bowl and 4 would go the Orange Bowl. The winners would square off the following week at the Rose Bowl or the Fiesta Bowl.

5.) A neutral site will be chosen for the national championship. The championship game could be played at a number of neutral sites like Cowboy Stadium or Lucas Oil Field. Various cities could bid for the game like the Super Bowl. This would open the game up to a broader audience and create even more publicity for a game looking to generate revenue.

*Proposals #4 and #5 seem like a lot of travel in a short period of time, but I would argue that during the regular season a college football team could travel three weeks in a row playing road games. How would this be any different? For those arguing about how family would travel. I suggest the NCAA open their overflowing wallets and allow money and tickets for players families traveling to the playoff games.

What about traveling fan bases? Well, we can't have everything. If you want to follow your team you will, if not then TV is the best option. Either way this is the sacrifice I think most fans will make to see a playoff and a 'real' champion crowned.



Wednesday, April 25, 2012

MSU Green and White Game rosters selected


Today the Michigan State Spartan football team drafted their teams for the annual Green and White spring game which takes place this Saturday at Spartan Stadium. The Green and White game marks the official end of spring practice.

Seniors are selected by the coaches to draft the Green and White teams. 

The White roster was picked by Seniors Johnny Adams, Peter Badovinac, Larry Caper, Fou Fonoti, Steve Gardiner, Tyler Hoover, Chris Norman, Drew Stevens and Arthur Ray.

WHITE TEAM COACHING STAFF:
Honorary Head Coach: Devin Thomas
Head Coach: Terrence Samuel
Assistant Coaches: Harlon Barnett, Pat Narduzzi, Mark Staten, Dave Warner

The seniors drafting the Green team were Jeff Bobek, Dan Conroy, Doug Curtis, John Deyo, Chris McDonald, Ethan Ruhland, Anthony Rashad White and Mitchell White.  

GREEN TEAM COACHING STAFF:
Honorary Coach: Greg Jones
Head Coach: Brad Salem
Assistant Coaches: Ted Gill, Dan Roushar, Mike Tressel

Full rosters can be found here: Green and White Game Rosters

Great video of the Spartan team drafting can be seen here: MSU Spartans all-access

ANALYSIS:

In looking at these two teams I would definitely favor the White team to win. The Green team did get the first pick and selected DE William Gholston along with RB Le'Veon Bell, DE Shilique Calhoun and TE Dion Sims. However, together with their seniors the White team is loaded with players like WR DeAnothony Arnett, S Isaiah Lewis, LB Max Bullough, DE Marcus Rush, and LB Denicos Allen. The White team just has more defensive stars which will likely overwhelm the Green squad.

Overall it will be great to finally watch this team in live action. The defensive players on both sides should be flying all over the field. Red shirt freshman QB Connor Cook who is playing for both teams will have his work cut out for himself going against each defensive unit.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: WR DeAnothony Arnett, WR Keith Mumphery, WR Andre Sims Jr., S RJ Williamson, S Kurtis Drummond, DE Shilique Calhoun, DE Joel Heath, RB Jeremy Langford, RB Nick Hill.

The game will be televised this Saturday (4/28) on BTN at 1:00PM EST. 

Photo courtesy: http://www.facebook.com/MSUathletics

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Maxwell out officially for Spring Game


Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell was officially ruled out today for Saturday's Green and White spring game at Spartan Stadium.

Spartan coach Mark Dantonio confirmed Maxwell's status for Saturday's spring game on today.

"Andrew will not play. Too much of a risk," Dantonio said. "He might be able to play (but won't)."

"You'd like to have a little more depth at the quarterback position than we currently have with one guy out," Dantonio said. "But that's the way we've sort of handled it here. We've always tried to have four quarterbacks on scholarship at once, maximum. And that leaves us a little light sometimes."

After Maxwell sprained his right knee two weeks ago many speculated that the Spartan coaching staff would be cautious handling the injury so early in the year. With Maxwell out the Spartans will turn to back up red shirt freshman Connor Cook to take first string reps and play quarterback for both teams during the spring game.

Many were curious to see how Maxwell would fare in game like situations. Hopefully this is just a minor setback in the Spartan QB's development. 



Monday, April 16, 2012

Gruden's QB Camp featuring Kirk Cousins



Former Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins was featured Jon Gruden's QB Camp which aired on ESPNU tonight.

The show chronicles the career of Cousins at MSU and includes a rigorous film study session with the former NFL coach. Gruden in his animated way grills Cousins on a variety of topics all the way from bad reads to reasons why Cousins grew a beard during the season.

During the whole show Cousins is very composed in his responses and displays a confidence in his knowledge and ability.

Leadership was brought up many times and Gruden was giddy on the fact that Cousins was a "rare" human being on this earth because of his positive qualities.

The show ends with a throwing session where Cousins displays the great strength of this passing ability. At the end of the drills Gruden says to Cousins, "Maybe one of these days I can get back in the game and coach you."

The former 3-time MSU football captain will make you proud in this great segment.

Please take time to watch before the big wigs at ESPN tear the link down from youtube.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The importance of DeAnthony Arnett

Michigan State receiver DeAnthony Arnett talks with a teammate during practice Thursday (Photo by Al Goldis)
By now we all know the story behind the Michigan State Spartan football team's newest weapon at wide receiver. Not only was Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett's arrival a blessing for him and his family, it also may have saved the upcoming season for the Spartan offense.

Already projecting to be young and inexperienced at the quarterback and wide receiver positions the Spartans badly needed an experienced play maker who could stretch the field and be a reliable pass catcher. As junior QB Andrew Maxwell assumes control of the offense he will need a security blanket in the passing game. Thankfully, the true sophomore receiver is already showing great signs in spring practice.

MSU assistant coach Terrence Samuel speaking about Arnett said: "(He is) a smooth player, very gifted. He has got the tools. Like I said, it is just being comfortable, understanding the jargon. If we can get him to where he is playing fast, hopefully we will be able to hoot and holler a little bit once he is playing fast. Right now he is thinking a little bit. We are just going to have to let him digest the offense, get a little bit more comfortable and the guy is coming...his body awareness and his quickness skills are so nicely inline to where he gets on top of you with a small amount of steps. There are not a lot of steps wasted with his body mechanics. I am impressed. He is going to be pretty good, it is just a matter of time with the offense."

WR Bennie Fowler (expected to be the new #1 WR) has yet to touch the field for spring practice because he is nursing a foot injury. Recently Tony Lippett (who entered spring practice #1 on the WR depth chart) injured his ankle most likely ending his spring early. A group of young Spartan receivers like Keith Mumphrey, A.J. Sims, Jeremy Langford and Kyle Kerrick have shown lots of potential during spring ball. However, not having actual game experience will somewhat slow the development of the young receivers. With the exception of Fowler and Lippett the rest of the Spartan receivers are very inexperienced especially when it comes to learning the Spartan offense.

Coach Samuel had this to add about the young receiver core: "It is a blank sheet of paper. I have just put 'A' on it and I am trying to get to 'Z'...Right now want to give them some time to learn the offense, try not to scream too much...As long as they can talk the concepts, understand the concepts and manipulate the concepts, then they start to feel comfortable and they start to play fast. Right now, they are not playing fast because they are not comfortable with the offense just yet. It is just new to them. Having five senior wide receivers last year with the guys that I had, those guys knew it before I even got in the room. These guys I am having to make sure that they truly understand the little subtle nuances of the position and the concepts to get themselves open, to be effective in the routes. For that retention and recall, they need reps. The only thing that helps with that is reps."
Arnett catches a pass (Photo by Al Goldis)

The supremely talented DeAnthony Arnett is so important because he is simply not inexperienced. Last season as a true freshman Arnett saw action in every game for the Tennessee Vols going against SEC competition week in and week out. Arnett was third on the Vols with 24 receptions (second-most receptions by a freshman in Tennessee history), fourth with 242 yards and was one of three players to catch two touchdowns. Having one year under his belt gives him an edge over the other young Spartan wide receivers in terms of reps and competition. Once Arnett is able to grasp the offense he will be ready to fly. Although MSU head coach Mark Dantonio has stressed that Arnett would be viewed as a freshman because this is his first spring ball, it would not surprise anyone to see the Arnett running with the starters when summer camp begins.



Future Spartan Gary Harris keeps busy


Gary Harris takes it to rack at the Nike Hoops Summit
With the high school basketball season long gone and AAU games out of sight all what's left for today's top high school prospects is the all-star game circuit. Top players from all over the country are selected to play in the McDonald's All-American game and the Jordan Brand Classic. Additionally some players from this year's high school senior class were selected to play for the USA Basketball Junior National Select Team for the Nike Hoops Summit, which pits America’s top seniors against some of the most impressive young international players.

Future Michigan State star and Indiana Mr. Basketball winner, Gary Harris is one of the few elite players that was selected to participate in all three events.

In the McDonald's All-American (3/28/12) game Harris' East squad fell to the West 106-102. After battling through a pulled groin injury Harris scored two points on 0-for-3 shooting for the East team. He added five rebounds, three assists, two blocks, a steal and a turnover in 15 minutes. After the game Harris said "It was definitely not my best showing, but it was an all-star game and that's just how it goes sometimes. It was a good week. I really enjoyed myself and built some relationships with these guys and had a good time."

At the Nike Hoop Summit (4/7/12) Harris had 8 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists in the USA Team's 84-75 loss to a team of international players at the Rose Garden in Portland, OR. During the game, Fox Sports broadcaster Ernie Kent praised the guard as a prototypical Michigan State player."Strong, smart, tough on defense, knock down open shots," the former Oregon coach said of Harris after watching him in practice earlier in the week. "I thought he was a great communicator. He talks to you eye-to-eye. Just a great kid."

Up next for the future Spartan is the Jordan Brand Classic this Saturday (4/14/12) at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, NC. With a few sub-par games statistically, look for Harris to establish himself as the premier shooting guard in this game. The game will be televised on ESPN at 7:00pm EST. Make sure to tune in!

Rosters for the Jordan Brand Classic game are below: 


East Team (Home)
Name School Position College
Kyle Anderson St. Anthony (Jersey City, N.J.) PG UCLA
Kris Dunn New London (New London, Conn.) PG Providence
Jerami Grant DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.) PF Syracuse
Gary Harris Hamilton Southeastern (Fishers, Ind.) SF Michigan State
Brice Johnson Edisto (Cordova, S.C.) PF North Carolina
Ricardo Ledo South Kent (South Kent, Conn.) SF Providence
Nerlens Noel Tilton School (Tilton, N.H.) C Kentucky
Tony Parker Miller Grove (Lithonia, Ga.) PF Undecided
Rodney Purvis Upper Room Christian Academy (Raleigh, N.C.) SG N.C. State
Kaleb Tarczweski St. Mark's (Southborough, Mass.) C Arizona
J.P. Tokoto Menomonee Falls (Menomonee, Wis.) SF North Carolina

West Team(Away)
Name School Position College
Steven Adams Notre Dame Prep (Fitchburg, Mass.) C Pittsburgh
Brandon Ashley Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) PF Arizona
Isaiah Austin Grace Prep (Arlington, Texas) C Baylor
Anthony Bennett Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) PF Undecided
Archie Goodwin Sylvan Hills (Little Rock, Ark.) SG Kentucky
Danuel House Hightower (Houston) SG Houston
Grant Jerrett La Verne Lutheran (La Verne, Calif.) PF Arizona
Shabazz Muhammad Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) SF UCLA
Marcus Paige Linn-Mar (Marion, Iowa) PG North Carolina
Alex Poythress Northeast (Clarksville, Tenn.) SF Kentucky
Rasheed Sulaimon Strake Jesuit (Houston) SG Duke




Thursday, April 12, 2012

Derrick Nix reinstated after arrest

Nix and Izzo discuss the reinstatement Photo by Al Goldis
Tom Izzo reinstated senior center to be Derrick Nix after he was suspended in definitely after he was arrested last week after a traffic stop. Nix was arrested for operating under the influence of a controlled substance and possession of marijuana.

Although the arrest is minor in the eyes of the law, Izzo will be the final judge for Nix. Izzo said in a press conference today that Nix is back on the team pending his completion of certain criteria set by the coach and his staff. There is a real possibility for a set back if Nix were to slip up again as was the case with former Spartan Chris Allen. Allen was suspended from the team over the summer in 2010 and given a chance to work his way back. However, Allen ended up failing to meet the guidelines set out for him to make his return which lead to his eventual transfer to Iowa State.

Nix who's made tremendous strides last season as a player, is the only senior on next year's team. Izzo knows Nix will be a vital key to the team's ultimate success. Hopefully this is a wake up call for the young man as he continues to better himself. Nix is quoted during the press conference as saying: “From this point on, I’ve got to become a man...I realize I will be watched. I want to be able to move forward and refocus my whole life.”

For full press conference coverage to go: http://www.freep.com/article








Spartans #10 in early ESPN basketball ranking

ESPN's Andy Katz revised his 'way-too-early' top 25 from last month.

His current top 10 includes:
1.) Indiana 
2.) Louisville
3.) Kentucky
4.) Kansas
5.) Michigan
6.) Baylor
7.) NC State
8.) Ohio State
9.) Florida
10.) Michigan State

My initial thoughts are that for the 2nd straight year the Big Ten will be the strongest basketball conference in America. With the short-comings of Big Ten football in the post season it is a welcomed sight to see the Big Ten stepping up as a premier basketball conference. Overall this brings more money, attention and most importantly big-time recruits to all of the Big Ten programs.

Big Ten break down:

Indiana at #1. Seeing Indiana ranked #1 after only a sweet 16 finish is quite surprising. I know that have Cody Zeller and Christian Watford coming back along with a nice recruiting class, but last year's IU team didn't really accomplish much. Yes they beat three top 5 teams at home and hung with eventual national champ Kentucky before losing by 12 in the sweet 16. However, they were unable to get a signature non-conference win nor could they get a road win against the Big Ten's elite. Can we really assume that a team that did not win hang any banners from last season will be the most dominate team in the country? I'll take the wait and see approach for next season's Hoosier team.

Michigan at #5. The Wolverines did get a piece of the Big Ten conference title, but most will say that Michigan State and Ohio State were the true conference elite. The way Michigan ended their season getting blown out by Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament and embarrassingly getting put out in their first game of the NCAA tournament against Ohio (MAC conference) hardly should give the Wolverines the benefit of the doubt. The Wolverines bring in a decent recruiting class, but that also brings inexperience to a team in need of experience. They return star freshman PG Trey Burke and G Tim Hardaway Jr. but what else is providing the punch?

Ohio State at # 8.  The Buckeyes represented the Big Ten well in the NCAA tournament making the Final Four where they eventually lost to Kansas in their national semifinal game. I believe Kansas was the inferior team, but all season long Ohio State lacked the killer instinct to close teams out. The losses of Jared Sullinger to the NBA and William Buford to the graduation will be a huge. However, they did get great news when sophomore SF DeShaun Thomas decided to come back for his junior year. Aaron Craft is the best point guard in the conference and the Buckeyes also return SG Lenzelle Smith, Jr., SF LaQuinton Ross and C Evan Ravenel. The Buckeyes are going to be in the hunt to win the Big Ten title again, but how will they replace Sullinger's presence on the inside?

Michigan State at #10. How can the Spartans be disrespected being placed in a preseason 10 top? By placing three conference opponents, that they were definitively better then last season a head of them. The loss of Draymond Green to graduation goes beyond statistics. The Spartans lose their captain and the closest player to Coach Tom Izzo's ear. MSU also losses senior guards Brandon Wood and Austin Thornton. Replacing seniors has never been easy, but Michigan State again has great depth and talent at each position coming back. Add in a top 10 recruiting class and the Spartans should continue to build on the success they experienced last season where many felt they overachieved. PG Keith Appling and C Andreian Payne should be ready to take the next steps in becoming the players Izzo wants them to be. The Spartans again should be loaded to make another run at the Big Ten title and a Final Four, where in East Lansing it's become the expectation. The biggest concerns: how freshman sensation Branden Dawson comes back from a knee injury and where does the leadership come from with the loss of Green? As long as Izzo is leading the Spartans they will continue to have a strong advantage over all Big Ten opponents.

For the entire early preseason top 25 from Andy Katz go to: ESPN.com

ESPN Analysis': Kirk Cousins is a 2nd round pick

Kirk Cousins at the NFL Combine  
Photo: Brian Spurlock/US PRESSWIRE
Earlier today on ESPN Sports Center Todd McShay gave his assessment of this year's quarterback crop in the NFL draft.

McShay locked in QBs Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, and possibly Brandon Weedon as 1st round picks.

In the 2nd round McShay had the former MSU QB Kirk Cousins going 41st overall to the Buffalo Bills. After the combine and individual work outs Cousins has proven to be a player worthy of early round consideration. Sports Illustrated reported that after the combine:
 "Cousins stood out in all the passing drills and was the best quarterback on the turf at Lucas Oil Stadium. His passes were crisp, accurate and Cousins was on the money all day. He hit receivers in stride on underneath routes as well as down the field. Cousins nicely placed the ball into receivers' hands and displayed the ability to put touch on throws when necessary."
The Detroit Free Press reported that ESPN's Jon Gruden had the same thoughts on Cousins ability to be a 2nd round pick in the NFL draft.
“What you’re getting is a three-time team captain at Michigan State,” Gruden said of Cousins’ pro prospects. “So that tells you what type of leader he is. He does have, I think, NFL prototype size (6-feet-3, 214 pounds). He’s in a very good offense at Michigan State. They ask him to do a lot of different things.
He’s under the center; he’s in the shotgun. There’s a two-back attack, there’s a no-back attack. And quietly, Michigan State has become one of the premier football programs in college football.”
Spartans fans are rooting for Cousins at the next level as he will likely be the face of the Michigan State program in the NFL for the coming future.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Adams and Dennard: Spartan Cornerback Attack

Darqueze Dennard is congratulated by teammates after his Outback Bowl interception against Georgia
This season the Michigan State Spartan defense is the best group in the Big Ten and easily a top 5 defense in the country. With only two main starters lost from last season this experienced group will be looking to improve upon what was already considered an elite defensive showing in 2011. A lot of the success has to do with the excellent coaching from a defensive minded staff. The Spartan defense is as aggressive as any in the country when it comes to attacking the quarterback. A lot of the blitzing and pressure that is dialed up is the result of excellent coverage in the defensive back field. Any coach will tell you that you can not be a successful blitzing team without at least one shut down corner. Now what makes this year's Michigan State defense a cut above the rest is that they have two lock down corners.

Senior CB Johnny Adams and junior CB Daqueze Dennard are a blessing for defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi and not just because they are great cover corners. Both guys possess tremendous ball skills and play making ability. They are strong enough off the line to jam wide receivers and make tackles off the line. The versatility of both gives opposing offensive coordinators fits trying to track down where they line up on the field. Having two guys who can cover any team's number 1 wide out on either side of the field is a luxury that many teams in college and even at the pro level do not have.

Adams was an All-Big Ten selection last season after his stellar year at the boundary corner position where he totaled 51 tackles, 3 sacks and led the team with nine passes defended (intercepted 3 and broke up 6 passes). The biggest play of the year for Adams was his corner blitz against Michigan where he sacked Dennard Robinson for a 10 yard loss on a 4th down play that eventually sealed MSU's 4th straight win over the Wolverines. Adams also took back an interception in a game against Indiana 86 yards for a TD.

Although injured for part of the Big Ten season last year Darqueze Dennard still earned All-Big Ten honorable mention where he recorded 42 tackles and six passes defended (three interceptions, three pass break-ups) in just 11 games. The game that turned a few heads was the performance in the 2012 Outback Bowl against the Georgia Bulldogs. Dennard picked off an Aaron Murray pass midway through the third quarter, leading to MSU's first TD of the game and then returned an interception 38 yards for a score in the third quarter that cut the Bulldog lead to 16-14. For his performance he was named to the Yahoo! Sports All-Bowl Team.

Already accomplished on the field both DBs will be looking to take the next step. In an interview with SpartanMag.com Adams said that one of his goals was to win the Jim Thorpe Award (given to the top defensive back in the country) which was one of the reason why he chose to come back to MSU for his senior season. Winning the Thorpe is a realistic goal for either corner coming in to this season because of the strong experienced defensive cast around them will allow both guys to be more aggressive making plays on the ball. A even stronger possibility is that both could potentially be selected to the All-Big Ten first team defense which would be historic for the program having two first team corners. 

What's even more important then statistics or awards is winning. If Michigan State has any success this season it will be because of this year's defensive performance. A defense with weak cornerback play is not a defense on any level.  Luckily for Michigan State they are confident in taking their chances one on one against any wide receiver core in the country because they have the skill and experience to compete with any one. If Adams and Dennard continue to improve like they have shown the previous two seasons then we truly haven't seen anything yet.

Photo courtesy of: http://mediagallery.usatoday.com (By Kim Klement, US Presswire)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Can Izzo recruit the 'one and done'?


Last night's national championship game was lopsided. Not just with the final score, but in terms of talent. The Kentucky Wildcats cut down the nets with a 67-59 win over the Kansas Jayhawks. Although the final score indicates a hard fought game, those watching it can definitively say that the young Wildcats never feared they would lose the game. It wasn't cockiness or arrogance, simply put the UK players knew they were better and played like it. Hence the new era of college basketball. Win with talent now or pay later.

The influx of talent coming in to college basketball has only gotten better year after year. Each new recruiting class has impact NBA talent looking to use a powerhouse basketball program as a 7 month stepping stone to the next level. College basketball is resembling college football in that championships may be won now on signing day. Kentucky Coach John Calipari, a notoriously great recruiter had a head start on all his peers. Coach Cal had the vision of what it was going to take to win in today's climate. By recruiting NBA ready talent and allowing them to thrive in his system for just one year, has set a legacy that #1 recruited player after player will seek to use as a path to success. It's not so much about losing players early as it is more about reloading with similar talent. If you think that's impossible then look no further at recent Calipari recruits from the past and present (Derrick Rose ('07), Tyreke Evans ('08), John Wall ('09), Demarcus Cousins ('09), Eric Bledsoe ('09), Brandon Knight ('10), Anthony Davis ('11), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist ('11)...need I mention more?). It's not just Calipari getting these players either it's UNC's Roy Williams and Duke's Mike Krzyzewsk that have won with their fair share of players leaving after freshman and sophomore years.

If this is the new way to win a title then Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo and his coaching staff must set their standards higher when looking at recruits around the country. No one recruits Big Ten country better then Izzo and his staff. However, they may need to broaden their reach and take advantage of their current status as a marque program. The Spartan coaching staff recruits not only for need but for who will fit the program identity. Sometimes that identity does not include the top blue chip recruits which is surprising considering Izzo has the championship resume to back up his philosophy even more so then some one like Calipari. Fair or unfair but many look at MSU as a place where 'one and done' talent does not go. Izzo has only had one freshman declare early for the NBA draft and that was back in 2001 when PF Zach Randolph decided his one year was enough.

This coming recruiting season will be very important for the Michigan State program in the foreseeable future. The 2013 recruiting targets are what a championship year could be built on starting in year one if they are able to get at least 3 or even all 4 of their current targets. Headlined by SF Jabari Parker, SG James Young, PF Dominic Woodson and PG Demetrius Jackson (ESPNU recruiting). Currently, all four players are considering and being pursued by MSU.

What the Spartans truly need is a game changing player like #1 rated Jabari Parker to commit to MSU even if it's just for one year. Someone like Parker can change perceptions and let other top upcoming talent know they can come to Michigan State for a year and thrive. He is the type of talent that can influence future prospects looking to make a big splash quick and then go off to the NBA. For any future title hopes, it is necessary for Michigan State to have a culture change when it comes to attracting big-time talent.

The system is not perfect nor is it ideal, but watching the Kentucky cut down the nets with a stock pile of young talent showed us all that a title can be had in a short period of time. The right coach and now more importantly NBA ready talent at the college level will be the new path to the promised land.

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Spartan Football Notes & Headlines

Early spring practice notes:
  • QB Andrew Maxwell was Kirk Cousins' backup the last two seasons and is still getting acclimated to being the starter. Maxwell said he felt "weird" that the media watched him closely during the spring practice opener. “It’s a different level of attention. It’s something I'll have to get used to," he said." The attention I had just warming up, until it happens, you really don’t know how to deal with it.”
  • Sophomore Taiwan Jones is listed as the top linebacker at the star position.
  • Sophomore Tony Lippett the two-way player comes in spring practice mainly working from the offensive side of the ball. Lippett and fellow sophomore Keith Mumphery are the starting WRs as the Spartans try to replace B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin. They started strong during the first week of practice. Junior WR Bennie Fowler had a screw inserted into his foot 11 weeks ago and will miss two weeks of spring practices, according to coach Mark Dantonio. Sophomore WR DeAnthony Arnett , a Tennessee transfer, will participate this spring. MSU has petitioned the NCAA to allow Arnett to play this fall.
  • After the loss of two senior tight ends the Spartans are experimenting with switching defensive end Denzel Drone to tight end. There is lots of depth at the DE positions and the Spartans already thin at the position only have one tight end (Dion Sims) with any kind of experience on the roster. The progress will be interesting to follow.
  • Will Larry Caper find his freshman year magic with more carries and opportunities to play? The departure of Edwin Baker opened the door back up for a Caper who might be the freshest senior running back in college football. Would be great to see the coaching staff get the most out of a finally healthy Caper this year.
  • With Marcus Rush, Shilique Calhoun, William Gholston, Joel Heath, and Corey Freeman working at defensive end, the Spartans have as an athletic group of defensive ends as there is in the country. 
  • Speaking of Shilique Calhoun, on first first day of spring ball, Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio compared Shilique Calhoun to former Spartan defensive end Julian Peterson, a five-time Pro-Bowler during his 11-year NFL career which began in 2000 after he was selected No. 16 overall in the 2000 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49'ers. “Shilique has got (former NFL Pro Bowler) Julian Peterson-type of ability. He has ability to make big plays, he’s extremely quick and he’s got power.”
  • Sophomore Kurtis Drummond and redshirt freshman RJ Williamson are competing for the FS spot vacated by Trenton Robinson, the third-leading tackler last season.
  • Senior Tyler Hoover, a former DE, is listed as the starter at DT, where NFL-bound Jerel Worthy played last season.
Key players unavailable to go this week for spring ball:

-senior LB, Chris Norman (shoulder)
-red shirt freshman LB, Lawrence Thomas (shoulder)
-junior WR, Bennie Fowler (foot)

All three players are nursing nagging injuries from last year. No reason for Coach Mark Dantonio to rush these players back for contact drills.

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Monday, April 2, 2012

William Gholston readies for a B1G year

Gholston looks to step up in his junior year.
With the early departure of defensive tackle Jerel Worthy to the NFL draft the Michigan State Spartans will look to junior defensive end William Gholston for leadership and production. After a injury plagued freshman year, Gholston came in to his own last year leading the Spartan defensive linemen with 70 tackles (16 tackles for loss) and 5 sacks. He was selected to the All-Big Ten second team by the coaches and media as a true sophomore. His year was truly highlighted in the 2012 Outback Bowl against the No. 18 Georgia Bulldogs where he tied a Spartan bowl record with 5 tackles for loss (16 yards), including a career-best 2 sacks in the 33-30 triple overtime win. The 5 tackles for loss tied for the third-highest total in a Spartan game (record: Julian Peterson with 7 vs. Ohio State in 1998). In that Outback Bowl game Gholston also recovered a fumble and returned it 6 yards, broke up a pass and tied for the team lead with seven tackles overall in the game. For his bowl game performance, Gholston was named to the ESPN.com and Yahoo! Sports All-Bowl Team.

As spring practice began last week for MSU it appears Gholston is checking in with a stronger and trimmer frame (http://www.freep.com/article). This coming season could be a game changing one for Gholston and the MSU defense. With 9 of 11 starters coming back and plenty of depth behind each position the Spartans can truly feel like the defensive side of the ball is their strength.

Gholston's physical presence (6'7" 275lb) alone makes him an intriguing prospect at the next level. His size is reminiscent of star NFL defensive end Julius Peppers (6'7" 287lb). I believe that on the college level William Gholston compares favorably to the former UNC Tar Heel and not just in size only. Along with the sheer size both players bring pure athleticism to the defensive end position. Whether it's chasing down running backs or disrupting the pass both players are corner stone play makers for any good defense.

In 2000 as a red shirt sophomore Peppers broke out with with a 15 sack season that included 64 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, 1 INT and 2 TD fumble returns. However, before that season he registered 50 tackles which included 6 sacks. This coming season I believe Gholston will have a similar type of jump in performance and production making this season his true break out year. The attacking scheme of defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi gives his players a chance to make plays all over the field. This will only benefit a player like Gholston who is as aggressive as any linemen in college football. It will be hard for offensive lines to focus solely on double teaming Gholston when they will have to worry about multiple blitzing players from all positions. Facing single blocking or commanding double teams will both play right in to the Spartan defensive game plan.

After a much improved 2nd season Gholston will be looking to make the leap in to star defensive end. His play getting to the quarterback and stopping the run could help propel Michigan State in to the #1 overall defense by seasons end.

Photo credit: http://www.facebook.com/MSUathletics