photo Michigan-Display-Ad-728x90-Die-Hard-Fans-only_zpskcnarkrk.jpg  photo MampGB header 2015 v6_zpsdluogxnr.jpg

Posts Tagged ‘Montae Nicholson’

#2 Michigan vs Michigan State game preview

Friday, October 28th, 2016


um-msu-game-preview-header(Isaiah Hole, 247 Sports)

Nine years ago Michigan traveled to East Lansing ranked 15th nationally to take on a 5-4 Michigan State squad. Little did anyone know at the time that Michigan was about to take a severe downturn while the Spartans were about to see their fortune change for the better.

Michigan State hadn’t won the Big Ten since 1990 and had finished third or better only three times during that span, averaging just 5.6 wins per season. They had beaten Michigan just five times and just nine times in the previous 39 seasons.

um-msu_small
Quick Facts
Spartan Stadium – 12p.m. ET – ESPN
MSU Head Coach: Mark Dantonio (10th season)
Coaching Record: 107-55 (89-38 at MSU)
Co-Offensive Coordinators: Jim Bollman (4th season)
Dave Warner (4th season)
Co-Defensive Coordinators: Mike Tressel (1st season)
Harlon Barnett (1st season)
Last Season: 12-2 (7-1 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: MSU 27-UM 23 (2015)
All-Time Series: Michigan 68-35-5
Record in East Lansing: Michigan 19-14-2
Jim Harbaugh vs MSU 0-1
Last Michigan win: 2012 (12-10)
Last MSU win: 2015 (27-23)
Current Streak: Michigan State 3
Michigan State Schedule to date
Opponent Result
Furman W 28-13
at #18 Notre Dame W 36-28
#11 Wisconsin L 6-30
at Indiana L 21-24
BYU L 14-31
Northwestern L 40-54
at Maryland L 17-28

On that early November Saturday in East Lansing, the Spartans held a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter before Michigan rallied back for a 28-24 win behind backup quarterback Ryan Mallett and senior running back Mike Hart.

Every fan on both sides of the rivalry knows what happened next when Hart, in a post-game interview, likened Michigan State to a little brother that the older brother — Michigan — picks on. Nearly everyone on both sides are sick of hearing about it, but it coincided with a major shift in the rivalry.

Lloyd Carr retired after the season and Michigan struggled through seven seasons of Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke, dropping six of those contests to their in-state rival by an average of 16.3 points. Michigan went 46-42 during that span, finishing no better than second in their division. Michigan State, meanwhile, went 75-31, winning the Big Ten three times, winning two BCS bowls, and appearing in the College Football Playoff semifinal. The contrast could hardly be more distinct.

But Jim Harbaugh stepped into the fray and proceeded to win 17 of his first 20 games and Michigan catapulted up the rankings. Although the Wolverines lost Harbaugh’s first meeting with the Spartans a year ago, it’s eerily reminiscent of the coach’s mentor’s beginning. After all, Bo Schembechler took over a Michigan squad that had gone 2-9-1 against Michigan State in the previous 12 seasons. He won 17 of his first 20 games — one of those losses being his first matchup with MSU — but beat the Spartans the second time around. And the third. And the fourth. And the fifth. And so on. He won eight straight and Michigan won 30 of the next 38 until 2008.

If Michigan beats Michigan State tomorrow, Harbaugh will surpass Schembechler’s win pace through his first 21 games. Bo lost game 21 — the 1970 Ohio State game.

Michigan enters East Lansing the heavy favorite, ranked No. 2 nationally with a 7-0 record and only five games standing between them and the Big Ten championship game. Michigan State, meanwhile, needs four wins in its final five games to reach .500 and earn bowl eligibility. In many ways the circle is nearly closed, but given the last nine years, it’s easy to understand why Michigan fans are in a ‘wait and see’ approach to Saturday.

Can Michigan stay in the championship hunt? Or will Michigan State continue their recent dominance with an all-time upset? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

When Michigan State has the ball

Michigan State’s offense has plummeted into the bottom half of the Big Ten this season. It ranks 12th in the conference and 106th nationally in scoring (23.1 points per game), 10th and 86th in rushing (155.3 yards per game), fifth and 61st in passing (235 yards per game), and eighth and 84th in total offense (390.3 yards per game).

The loss of quarterback Connor Cook to the NFL following last season has been one of the major reasons for the offensive decline as Mark Dantonio has been unable to find a quality replacement. Senior Tyler O’Connor started the season and completed 61.1 percent of his passes for 1,257 yards, 11 touchdowns, and six interceptions. But he has seen his playing time diminish the past three weeks in favor of redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke, who has started the last two. Lewerke hasn’t fared any better, completing just 53.2 percent of his passes for 281 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Dantonio hasn’t named a starter for tomorrow, saying it will be a game-time decision. Junior Damion Terry is also in the mix. He went 6-of-10 for 63 yards and a pick against BYU and is the Spartans’ best dual-threat option.

The running game is lead by sophomore L.J. Scott, who averages 66.3 yards per game. He rushed for 128 yards including a 48-yard score against Maryland last weekend and will be key to Michigan State’s chances of winning tomorrow. He averaged 4.4 yards per carry against Wisconsin’s stout rush defense and if he can give MSU yards on first and second down, it will make things much easier for whichever quarterback starts. Junior Gerald Holmes is the second leading rusher with 272 yards and leads the team with four rushing touchdowns. He rushed 13 times for 100 yards and two touchdowns against Notre Dame in Week 2, but they have the nation’s 81st-ranked rush defense. Unlike Michigan’s deep backfield, MSU’s basically just Scott and Holmes.

The best player on the Spartan offense is senior R.J. Shelton, who ranks third in the Big Ten with 77.3 receiving yards per game and fourth with five receptions per game. He has caught at least seven passes in four of the six games in which he recorded a stat, with two 100-yard games. He caught seven passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns against Northwestern two weeks ago. He’s also dangerous on jet sweeps, where he has averaged over 10 yards per carry on six carries. Freshman Donnie Corley and senior Monty Maderis have combined for 38 receptions for 534 yards, but have found the end zone just twice (both Corley). Tight end Josiah Price is a reliable pass catcher with 18 receptions for 202 yards and three scores.

Aside from not having a consistent quarterback, the offensive line is a major source of the problems in East Lansing. They allow 2.3 sacks per game and can’t consistently open holes for Scott and Holmes. Michigan’s defensive line, which has fueled the defense that leads the Big Ten and ranks fourth nationally with 25 sacks, is poised for a big game.

When Michigan has the ball

During Michigan State’s surge over the past several seasons the defense has been the catalyst. Not so this season. The Spartans rank 12th in the Big Ten and 80th nationally in scoring defense (29.7 points allowed per game), ninth and 66th against the run (162.2 yards per game), 13th and 64th against the pass (225.4 yards per game), and 10th in total defense (388 yards per game).

The defense is lead by junior tackle/strong side end Malik McDowell, who has five tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. After him, however, the defensive line is much less fearsome. Fifth-year senior tackle Kevin Williams has 20 tackles but none for loss. Senior nose tackle Brandon Clemons has started all seven games and has held up well. Junior Demetrius Cooper is the end opposite McDowell and has three tackles for loss and a half a sack.

The linebackers are the strength of the MSU defense, most notably junior SAM Chris Frey, who is tied for the team lead with 57 tackles and leads the team with six quarterback hurries. Senior MIKE Riley Bullough is third on the team with four tackles for loss, but is also prone to personal fouls, which got him ejected from last week’s game. Sophomore STAR linebacker Andrew Dowell has a nice stat line with 45 tackles, two for loss, one sack, an interception, two passes defended, and a pair of quarterback hurries.

The secondary is decent but gave up over 200 yards to Maryland’s 112th-ranked passing offense last week. Junior safety Montae Nicholson is tied with Frey for the team lead with 57 tackles. The other safety is senior Demetrius Cox, who is prone to giving up big plays. The corners, sophomore Vayante Copeland and senior Darian Hicks, are passable. They both have an interception and Hicks leads the team with six pass breakups and seven passes defended. Freshman nickel corner Justin Layne also has a pick.

The other third

Senior kicker Michael Geiger has made 5-of-8 (62.5 percent) field goal attempts this season with a long of 48. His misses have come from 40, 43, and 49 yards, one of them being blocked. He’s a fourth-year starter who went 15-of-16 (93.8 percent) his freshman year but then just 26-of-41 (63.4 percent) the next two seasons combined. Sophomore punter Jake Hartbarger ranks seventh in the Big Ten with an average of 40.7 yards per punt. He has downed 14 of 32 inside the 20 with just one touchback.

Shelton is the main kick returner averaging 22.4 yards per return, while sophomore receiver Brandon Sowards averages 4.8 yards per punt return.

Prediction

While Michigan is favored by more than three touchdowns I fully expect Michigan State to give Michigan a game early on. The Spartans may be just 2-5, but they’ll step on the field winners of seven of the last eight over Michigan. But this game is almost always won on the ground and Michigan’s defense is just too good for the Spartans to run on. Dantonio will try to get Scott going and will take some shots deep trying to catch the secondary by surprise. It may work once, but not with enough consistency to outscore Michigan.

Offensively, Michigan will pound the run and pick on the Spartan safeties through the air. I expect that we’ll see a little more utilization of Jabrill Peppers and that we’ll see the evolution of some of the plays that have been set up over the past couple weeks. Will he pass for a touchdown this week?

Michigan State keeps it close for much of the first half before Michigan’s talent, experience, and depth allows them to pull away in the second. It ends up a solid win, but doesn’t cover the spread. And we’ll be just fine with that.

Michigan 33 – Michigan State 13

Michigan State Q&A with Chris Vannini of SpartanTailgate.com

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014


MSU Q-A_banner

Each Thursday throughout the season we collaborate with that week’s opponent blog to get some questions answered by the guys who know more about their team than we do. This week, we partnered with Chris Vannini, writer for SpartanTailgate.com, part of the 247 Sports Network. He was kind enough to answer questions about the way Michigan State fans view Michigan at the moment, how the MSU offense got so good, what — if anything — Michigan’s offense can exploit on Saturday, and more. You can follow him on Twitter at @ChrisVannini.

1. Michigan State has five wins in the past six years, and is big favorites again this week. It’s got to be getting old, right?

It’s certainly something no one saw coming, having only happened once before, when MSU went 6-0-2 from 1956-63. Yet even in the build-up to this week, it’s clear more intensity is coming from one side, and that’s the MSU side. Now, part of that is certainly because of U-M’s struggles and a developing apathy amongst U-M fans, but this won’t last forever, so MSU fans are making sure they enjoy as much as they can.

2. But seriously, how do Michigan State fans view the current state of the Michigan program and Coach Hoke? With glee, with pity, or what?

More than anything, I think it’s a feeling of, “I told you so.” When Hoke came in and started cleaning up in recruiting, many stories were written about the second coming of a 10-Year War between U-M and OSU, especially after MSU’s 2012 struggles. But it turned out that was an anomaly, and a program that had developed players for five years continued to do so. No one is wondering if MSU can sustain under Mark Dantonio anymore. Years of top recruiting classes and fast starts followed by players not developing and seasons falling apart have taken away any benefit of the doubt U-M receives, while MSU is getting that benefit for the first time, as shown by their high ranking despite the Oregon loss.

3. Since Mark Dantonio took over, the Spartans have had great defenses and average offenses. What’s different about this season? How did the offense get so good, especially after how bad it was the first half of last season?

I’ve never seen a unit improve as much as MSU’s offense did throughout last season, and I don’t think I ever will again. Even MSU’s offensice coaches were surprised, because the offseason is typically when that development happens. With where things ended last year, and with all the skill players coming back (other than Bennie Fowler), we figured the offense could have to carry the team early in the season. But we didn’t see this coming, an offense that is on pace to be the most prolific in school history.

The passing game and Connor Cook continued where they left off, and Cook has played himself into NFL first-round pick consideration. Replacing holes on the offensive line was the question mark. They’ve dealt with some injuries, and aren’t as deep as a year ago, but the results have been promising. MSU is still a solid, not great, running team, and MSU has allowed the fewest sacks per game in the country. Cook has time, and he can find his bevy of receivers, especially Tony Lippett, who has gone from being benched early last season to being one of the best receivers in the country this year, catching everything.

4. By now, we’re used to a vaunted MSU defense, but it seems that MSU has taken a minor step back defensively so far this season. Michigan is actually allowing 0.2 fewer points per game and fewer rushing yards per game. Is there anything that Michigan’s offense has any hope of exploiting this week?

The biggest issue for this defense has been big plays, and it’s because the safeties have struggled. Kurtis Drummond has been inconsistent, and RJ Williamson and true freshman Montae Nicholson have been sharing time at the other safety spot. MSU has allowed 19 plays of at least 30 yards, which is No. 103 nationally. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, they’ve been really bad at getting explosive plays on offense. But it’s something most teams have been able to do to MSU this season. The defense as a unit has gone from “elite” to “good,” and the big plays are the biggest problem.

5. Where do you see Michigan State having the biggest advantage this week, and why?

I think it has to come down to MSU’s defensive line against U-M’s offensive line, as it did a year ago. Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush are both playing great on the outside, and Lawrence Thomas, Joel Heath and Malik McDowell have the tackles more disruptive than a year ago. I don’t expect minus-48 rushing yards, but I think Michigan will have trouble getting anything going on the ground, especially with Derrick Green out.

6. Finally, what’s your prediction and how will it happen?

I’m going to go with a 38-24 MSU victory. With the weather looking nice, I think both teams will be able to move the ball (yes, including U-M). MSU will be able to move up and down with the pass, and I think U-M will be able to hit some big plays. Everyone has done it to MSU this year. I don’t see why U-M won’t. But I think it’ll be MSU’s offense that’s the difference in this one, unlike years past.