The Game of the Century, Part XXVIII
What is at stake?
If Michigan State loses, it is a Big Ten narrative. So close against LSU, so far away in national perception, the sight of another Big Ten elite falling to Oregon would return the conference, collectively, to that quiet emptiness that comes after standing in front of one's peers and the country and falling short.
And, what if Michigan State wins? Then it is a Michigan State narrative first. A Big Ten bully, beating up Stanford and then Oregon. A likely champion from the Midwest, with an eye for the first ever playoff. Little Brother, off to either New Orleans or Pasadena again. It would still be a Big Ten narrative, but less so. When one team has dominated the conference, some people will write off everybody involved (see: Ohio State's winning streak).
As always, respect and the chance for more glory await the winner.
Against Jacksonville State, MSU showed both positive and negative developments. The most positive was that the team came out focused, high-energy and very hungry. They are gamers, and will scrap in every one-on-one battle to try and win. That's an underestimated quality for a team, and it's almost as valuable as being smart or talented.
The offense was brutally efficient through the air - MSU quarterbacks went 18/24, reeling off almost 15 yards per pass. No Big Ten team except Ohio State came close to that figure, though J.T. Barrett and Ohio State did manage a little over 15. In fact, the Week 1 performances by Michigan, MSU and Ohio State put them in the top five in the country currently in passing efficiency. (Oregon and Georgia Tech are the others.)
|Team||Yards||Yards Per Play|
|Nebraska vs. FAU||784||8.52|
|Indiana vs. ISU||566||6.51|
|Michigan State vs. JSU||565||7.64|
|Michigan vs. ASU||560||10.18|
|Penn State vs. UCF||511||6.81|
|Rutgers vs. WSU||496||7.09|
|Maryland vs. JMU||471||5.54|
|Purdue vs. WMU||407||5.29|
|Iowa vs. NIU||401||5.21|
|Ohio State vs. Navy||390||7.64|
|Illinois vs. YSU||363||6.05|
|Northwestern vs. UC||354||4.37|
|Minnesota vs. EIU||338||5.83|
|Wisconsin vs. LSU||318||5.05|
Note: Nebraska's performance was historic, but the other six Big Ten West offenses fill up the bottom half.
Another plus seems to be the run defense, led by the man in the middle, Taiwan Jones. JSU managed only 22 yards on the ground, less than a yard per attempt. Dantonio's players excelled at disengaging from their blocks and making a forceful play, and that is one of the keys to stalling Oregon's offense.
Jacksonville State also discovered some weaknesses, though, that Oregon will try to exploit. The retooled offensive line did not get much push at the line of scrimmage, and the running game averaged just 4.2 yards per rush, a number that was propped up a little by sweeps to the outside. Another problem might be the passing defense - Darian Hicks was targeted early and often, and while he got more comfortable after the first quarter and started making some nice plays, Oregon will give him a stiffer test.
In fact, Oregon has an intriguing and dangerous amount of size on the outside. Beyond running back Byron Marshall, who also split out wide and gave Oregon 8 catches for 138 yards, the four most productive pass-catchers for the Ducks were a pair of tight ends (6'6", 250-pound Pharaoh Brown and 6'4", 250-pound Johnny Mundt) and a couple taller receivers (6'5", 201-pound Dwayne Stanford and 6'2", 191-pound Darren Carrington). It's a unit that might give MSU fits. Perhaps a silver lining lies in the fact that Oregon's wide receiver corps seems as weak as advertised, given that Helfrich has turned so much to tight ends and running backs to catch passes. Only 162 of the team's 380 yards came from wide receivers.
Mark Dantonio will probably want to find a way to blend the explosiveness that his offense has developed with the usual clenched fist of ball control to help shield the defense. Oregon has always struggled with tackling in space, and this year is no exception, even against a team like South Dakota (which totaled 370 yards against the Ducks). Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and WDE Tony Washington are stars, but Sparty has to make sure they can exploit a weak middle if they want to walk out of Eugene with a win. One thing is for sure - this game isn't going to be in the single digits.
Hitting the Links Is Regrouping
This details how Ohio State's limited playbook has held the offense back. OSU's power backs running 14 times for 50 yards doesn't help much, either.
Spurrier will need to inject more speed in the run game if his physical style is not able to create holes in the line of scrimmage. The wide receivers, a question mark going in, looked like a good unit, but Dylan Thompson is an erratic player whose best asset is his greatest weakness - his deep throws create big plays, but he also is inconsistent and a constant risk for turnovers. The problem for Spurrier is Thompson is not good enough overall to lean on with success. The Gamecocks need a running game.
Northern Iowa got half the first downs that Iowa did, but tallied more yardage. This happened because NIU put together a few big plays thanks to breakdowns in the back seven, which this elaborates on as a big problem for the Hawkeyes.
The use of Italian was very nice, and the chastising of BTN's commentating made me laugh.
Two levels on the defense were in the 'A' category, while the offensive line earned a D+.
One of Jameis Winston's weaknesses is his mechanics are not well-polished on his dropback; this makes him vulnerable to immediate pressure because his feet are not always prepared to quickly release a throw. Oklahoma State got to Winston and made him uncomfortable; that will almost certainly be the key to stopping the offense.
More a soliloquy than anything else, this writer is glad to see an old friend returned.
This Alabama fan ('gump') discusses some of what's ailing Alabama after their opening win to West Virginia. Also, Alabama fans have talked about how the Tide offense isn't using Blake Sims' natural skills effectively. That would be interesting because it seemed already like they could be using Amari Cooper a little differently than they do, in a way that would fit Nick Saban's preferences less but fit his skill set more. If Saban wants his offense to look a particular way, that narrows down the athletes he can recruit.
This is a great way to quickly review the Pac-12's Week 1 action.
This was a very good read by SI's Andy Staples, who had been an offensive lineman for Steve Spurrier at Florida. A concussion injury has forced out David Ash for the upcoming BYU game and possibly the season. That isn't the only injury, either - Dominic Espinosa, a 40-game starter at center and perhaps the team's best offensive lineman, fractured a leg during Saturday's game and will miss the season.
He was removed at halftime of Sunday night's 45-0 win against SMU.
SI will be doing this weekly; it's getting included this week because this one makes a whole lot of sense, and Gurley's name hasn't been connected to the Heisman Trophy elsewhere.
This is a great idea. After watching Christian Hackenberg become the first Nittany Lion to throw for 400 yards in the school's history, with 454 in his first game of his sophomore year, it's hard not to see big things on his horizon.
The defensive line looks very athletic, but once again Michigan allowed more tackles for loss than it forced (6, and 4).
Jacobs was the team's third-best receiver, but he is now done for the year. Jacobs had been an Ohio State commit until he spurned them, on Signing Day, for the Terps. Needless to say, I'm a big fan of Taivon Jacobs. Best of luck in his recovery.
This pulls a few main headlines from their season-opening win.
The 'Numbers to Know' section was especially good. Also, a well-deserved 'Team of the Week.'
Whether you watched MSU or not, this was a very good recap of all the key pieces on Michigan State's team.
Good wins like that will snowball other benefits. And at a position that's weak around the Big Ten - receiver - Rutgers might end up having the best: Leonte Carroo notched 1 touchdown and 151 yards on just 6 catches.
This was a personal article that felt like part of an ongoing conversation. I enjoyed it for at least a skim, and it brings up some interesting things. Also, this gives me a chance to mention that Minnesota's corners looked extremely good last Thursday. From their new jerseys to seeing Minnesota defenders flying around to the ball, the Gophers were a lot of fun to watch.
This is obviously a very frustrating story. In other injury-related news, Randy Gregory will be out at least a week after re-injuring his knee. He is listed as questionable for Week 3 against Fresno State.
Vandy played their first game without James Franklin - and it didn't go well.
A little offense; a little defense. That was a good recipe for the Cards to beat the Miami Hurricanes last night in Louisville's Cardinal Stadium.