Dining in Hell: Cal-Michigan State Preview
Eight weeks to kickoff. A tantilizingly short eight weeks. Thankfully while we have a long and warm summer to bask in before we get there…oh wait, you mean this damned city is currently undergoing frigid fifty degree weather? That students are wearing sweaters instead of sundresses? That everyone is cold and implacable to one another instead of warm and welcoming?
No wonder Baron Davis is heading out of the East Bay. Environment is everything. Weather likes this makes me wish for global warming.
Anyway, back to the biz at hand. Remember when I did those previews during the season about what to expect from each game? Yeah, it’s time to start doing those again, because no one really paid attention to them during the season. Print these out and take them to the games with a ball-point pen, so you can note how wrong our interviewers were about what to expect.
First off is our opening tilt with Michigan State. After all the Michigan-Cal doublespeak from the last post and the indignant chatter it set off between Wolverines and Spartan fans, it only seemed appropriate we start there. I recently contacted Scott from Enlightened Spartan (if you’re curious to what he looks like, here are some of his glamour shots) to talk about the upcoming season opener, and here are his responses, completely unedited. Well…the images were my doing.
Note: I have a preview of Cal’s side of the story that’ll appear on Enlightened Spartan eventually. I’ll let you know when it’s up.
1. How similar is Michigan State’s 2008 team looking to its 2007 team? Is the roster mainly intact or are there and fundamental lineup changes that leave you frittish about what to expect for starting day?
The Big Green Machine will ride it’s A-1 Abrams into Berkeley with probably its strongest team on paper in 10 years. The ES will be there with ‘em; notably, the ES watched every home Cal game (minus the Big Game) from 1977-1983 while growing up in Suisun City, Calif. Them were lean years, but the ES looks forward to returning as an adult and maybe pissing in Strawberry Creek after we kick your tails on August 30.
Similar? Yes. Different? Yes. OK. Like any other squad, we’ve had some graduations, some drop outs, and some academic advancement – and other guys just eating too much pizza and getting fat. If there was any spot that gets the ES jittery, it would be at wideout. Our All-American receiver, Devon Thomas, was the first wide receiver selected in the NFL draft after a record-setting year… but he wasn’t even on the Spartan radar after the 2007 Spring Game. So, can these other “who are theys?” – BJ Cunningham, Mark Dell, or Deon Curry – make the same leap to greatness? Unlikely, but not out of the question. Bottom line, MSU will have one of the best-skilled and experienced QBs in the Big Ten, and unless he can find a go-to guy at receiver, there will be lots more running plays to #23, Javon Ringer.
The secondary is the best its been since… well since our coach, Mark Dantonio, was a defensive genius for MSU under Nick Saban in the late 1990s… yes, our defensive secondary has sucked for 10 years. Finally, it returns solid with depth in both talent and experience. Safety Otis Wiley will knock your block off and has All-American written all over him. LBs are solid, all return with significant experience, led by Greg Jones who topped the Spartans in tackles as a freshman last year and was named a freshman All-American by that behemoth of a website, Rivals.
Both lines need some work; they return more experience than talent. 50% of starters on both the offensive and defensive lines return. Expect some pass rush, expect some good run blocking… but how good? The Spartan nation awaits with baited breath.
The defensive line won’t be a solid as the Hoover Dam, but still should do better than projected. In steps Trevor Anderson, a holdover from Dantonio’s days at Cincinnati. He left Cincy after leading the Bearcats in sacks as a freshman and sat out last year per NCAA rules. Brandon Long, a senior with plenty of experience, has been a “sleepmaster”… he had two sacks last year but if he plays to potential (he needs an electrode to the tail), there shouldn’t be much of a drop off. Justin Kershaw and Oren Wilson also fill the defensive interior — they both played in all 13 games last year, with Kershaw the better of the pair with 34 tackles. There is plenty of experience and depth, but it ain’t Ohio State (or USC).
2. Any new additions from recruiting or the redshirt lineup that make you really excited about what to expect?
Yeah, the #1 guy to look for is on the defensive line, Trevor Anderson. We lost our “sackmaster” to graduation last year and Anderson was the top defensive lineman for Dantonio at Cincy… he sat out a year after transferring and it will be up to him to keep the motor running at the defensive end. Mark Dell (6-2, 185-lbs) will most likely be the #1 receiver… but he has little experience to go with his tall, muscular frame.
3. What do the strongest parts of your team look like now? What are the areas of the field that make you nervous?
#1 – Coaching staff is the strongest part of the team, and a main reason why the Spartan nation is anticipating improvement and an even better squad this year. They have instilled discipline on the team, something lacking since Saban departed for the Bayou. The team schemes and gives 100% in play to the end – a main reason why MSU was within one score of every game it lost last year.
#2 – JAVON RINGER. Be scared, be vary scared. If not for Beanie Wells at OSU, he’s the best back in the Big Ten. With a depleted receiving corps, Ringer will likely see a heavy load this year. 1,500+ yards is not only doable, but very likely. He is the fastest back in the big ten, as well as the shiftiest.
#3 – Defensive backfield. Wait? Am I really typing this? Yes, DBs are tall (all 6-foot or taller), experienced (2 juniors, 2 seniors), and talented, led by senior Otis Wiley (6-2, 210). Wiley can lay the wood. Don’t throw that ball over the middle – OUCH. Wiley is GREAT in run support. Now, let’s just hope they’ve finally learned to turn around to knock out the deep ball…
#1 — We are starting a defensive end from last year (Michael Jordan, 6-5, 295-lb junior) at tight end. He should help out on the run block to cut Ringer loose… but can he catch? Christ, from knocking balls away to trying to catch them? What is the Doctor (a.k.a. M.D., Mark Dantonio) thinking?
#2 – Passing game. Can we pass block consistently enough to give our QB, Brian Hoyer, the time to find his receivers or to throw the deep ball? And, if he throws it, can the receivers catch it? Blair White has lightning speed at wideout but dropped three passes in the Champs Bowl. Maybe we need to sentence him and any others who drop balls to defensive end????
#3 – Kicking. Brett Swenson was an All American kicker for MSU as a freshman. Last year, he was… well, not All-American. Can he shitcan the “average” season and kick it into gear for a “stellar” season?
#4 – Brandon Long (6-4, 245-lbs). Will this guy crank it up and be a solid contributor at defensive end? Can he improve his pass rushing abilities to be a significant factor on defense? Or, will he underperform again in this, his final season.
4. Similarly to Cal, all of your six losses were closely contested and not decided until near the end. Do you think your team is posed to make a jump for next season or do you expect something else?
We’ll win at least one more game than last year. We were 7-6 last year, with all six losses decided by a TD or less. Dantonio is a masterful, straight-arrow kind of coach. It’s all about discipline and teamwork. He keeps his teams in games to the end with his game planning. He is moving the team from John L Smith’s idiotic “offense, pass-first” approach to the “defense wins championships” approach. Expect an 8-5 season with a kind of screwy Big Ten conference (the Yellow Bellies of Ann Arbor are poised for a disastrous year for once; Purdon’t is saying sayonara to Joe Tiller; JoePa is nearly dead and is in his swan song year). MSU will wipe its non-conference slate clean at 4-0, including kicking Cal’s arse, and improve to 4-4 in the conference for an 8-4 record heading into bowl season.
5. This is Mike Dantonio’s second season. After the fireworks of last year where you guys came close to pulling out some big games, are you worried at all about a sophomore slump, or do you think he’s ready to handle the big stage and make the big upsets?
Nope. Big upsets this year. We’ll pull out more of those close games – a smarter, more disciplined team that won’t waver and know it can get it done. With a more stoudt defense, that should keep us in games to the end. The Big Green Machine will take out Cal, Notre Dame, Yellow Bellies, either Wisky/Ohio State.
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