Scouting Report and Prediction: #11 Michigan State 0-0 vs. Utah State 0-0

 

A look at this week’s opponent…

 

The Spartan Nation opens the 122nd season of Spartan Football looking for their 20th straight win in their home opener.  Their opponent the Utah State Aggies (USU) hails from the Mountain West.

 

Mark Dantonio and the #11 Michigan State Spartans are not opening the season with a patsy.  Utah State is a good and formidable team.  The Spartans are better, but that doesn’t mean they are vaccinated against a season crippling game one loss.

 

Dantonio said of this game, “Opening game, opening night, Spartan Stadium, always very exciting. I think every place in America, a lot of optimism throughout the country. You look at Utah State, and you look at Michigan State and both programs, I think Utah State has the third most starters back in the country, and we maybe tie for first or so, so there will be a lot of experience on the football field Friday night, so it will be exciting.”

 

Utah State (USU) head coach Matt Wells says of the contest that, ““It’s game week. I’m really looking forward to this opportunity watching our guys play against one of the best teams in the country. This is a team that has Big Ten championship and playoff aspirations, and they certainly have the talent coming back to do that. They’ll be in the hunt for both of those at the end of the year. It presents a tremendous opportunity for us to play in front of a great crowd, in Big Ten country and a storied program that is well-spoken about and very well deserved. They are a perennial power in the Big Ten. It will be a tremendous opportunity for our guys to go see right where we’re at, and our guys are excited about it. This is a team that I’m anxious to watch play as we come together. Camp has been good, it’s been physical and it’s been a grind as most camps are. Our guys are excited and prepared for this opportunity to play Friday night.”

 

When MSU has the ball…

This defense when the season is over has the chance to be better than the 2013 Rose Bowl team.  They are better right now to start the year than that teams was to start that campaign, but what matters is how you finish.

Dantonio said of the Aggies defense that, “Defensively, they were number six in the country in terms of taking away the football, 29 turnovers. They’ll get after you, present a lot of different looks.”

 

Dantonio added, “I’m sure that is something they do a nice job of running it, throwing the football, they have a deep ball threat, they run a lot of deep balls. I think their screen game is good as well, very, very good. I’ve been impressed with their tight end (Dax Raymond), and I’m very, very impressed with their quarterback, Jordan Love.”

 

USU has struggled getting to the QB for sacks and hurries.  Something Wells has emphasized this off season.  “Some of that’s in recruiting and maybe a little bit developmental. The improvement along our D-line has been good over the last year. (Adewale Adeoye) has had a really good camp. Jacoby Wildman plays with a tremendous motor. You add Fua Leilua to that mix and those guys are better pass rushers than we’ve had, all three of those guys. Tipa Galeai coming off the edge, he’s got a quick twitch, he’s got speed, he’s long, he’s extremely long, and, hopefully, he can produce a few sacks.”

 

Aggie safety Gaje Ferguson says of the Spartans, “As far as Michigan State goes, we’ve been watching film and preparing for them. They have a lot of returning players, as do we. I expect them to be good at what they do, be disciplined and a sound football team. We’re going in there to face a team that’s going to know they’re game plan and is going to know what they’re going to do against us. They’re going to be prepared just as we are. Their quarterback is a good player and he can make a lot of good plays on his feet and throwing. They have a good running back and a couple of good receivers that are coming back. It will be a competitive game. There is a lot of talent on the field and I expect them to be a disciplined group.”

 

Ferguson added of the Spartans talented receivers that, “As far as receivers go, just the way we prepared through camp, we have a lot of receivers that are very similar (to Michigan State’s receivers), guys like Jalen Greene, Ron’quavion Tarver, Aaren Vaughns and Jordan Nathan. We have some big bodies and we also have some very fast guys that emulate what Michigan State has on their receiving corps. The fact that we’ve seen that all camp, we’ve been competing all camp, that really prepares us for what we’re going to see and what we’re facing with Michigan State in their receiving corps. I feel very comfortable with that and very confident in our guys in the secondary to handle that as we’ll be able to handle that because it’s nothing we haven’t seen. The run game is going to be very tough. That’s just going to be something we’re going to have to face every play and something we have to bring in consistently, is hats to the ball, strength in numbers, which we’ve rallied to the ball really well. We emphasized that in camp and that’s what we’re trying to make as our identity as a defensive unit. That’s the best way to handle the running game for us.”

 

Michigan State’s offense has been mandated by Dantonio to, “Score points” in 2018.  That may seem strange, but Dantonio seems to have abandoned his more conservative approach offensively when you analyze his comments on 2018.

Brian Lewerke looks to show up a loaded sports care of talent that surrounds him and this game is about Spartan execution more than Aggie talent.

 

When MSU is on defense…

Dantonio said of the Aggie offense that, “Offensively, no-huddle type thing. They’re going as fast as anybody in the country. I’ve been impressed with their quarterback (Jordan Love). At tailback, he’s from a JC, they just named him the starter, I think he is from (Northeastern Oklahoma A&M), Darwin Thompson. I think he’s the guy that’s got explosiveness and things of that nature. They’ve got some transfers playing for them, transferred in, a wide receiver from USC.”

Dantonio reacted to USU offensive attack of tempo that, “I think first of all you recognize that aspect these days in college football. Most teams do that, so we’re prepared for that. We practiced against that. We provide that type of up-tempo type of practice, really by running three huddles in our defense. We’re snapping the ball every 10 or 12 seconds.”

Wells said of the Spartan front seven that, “They are big, strong and physical. Hopefully, the pace can wear them out a little bit and get them tired. There’s no secret that we’re going to play with pace on offense. To see where they ranked coming out of last year against the teams they did it against is pretty impressive. They’re deep and they’re talented. It’ll be maybe the best we see all year.”

Aggies OL Rob Castaneda said of playing this vaunted Spartan D that, “The biggest thing is to trust our coaches. Coach (Steve) Farmer does a great job of game-planning, along with coach (John) Cannova. They do a fantastic job of teaching us what we need to do on the field and game-planning each week, especially for Michigan State. They have some big boys up front. They have some nice linebackers, so it’s going to be a war in those trenches come Friday night. I’m more prepared than I ever have been in my entire life.”

The Spartans 2018 defense can be and should be special.  They need to do to the Aggies what they have done to their explosive offense all game:  DOMINATE.  Impose their will and own them.

 

Intangibles…

The Spartans are a better team.  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.

 

Wells and USU had great success last year creating turnovers and that is the key to his Aggies securing a massive upset.  “That was a lot of turnovers. That was a lot of forced turnovers and recovered turnovers. We did a tremendous job last year doing that. Ball searching. That’s the goal again this year. Hopefully, we’ll get a little lucky and get some balls on the ground. You want to win the turnover margin. That’ll be a big key to win each and every week, not just in the first game. Not turning the ball over on offense and gaining turnovers on defense. That gives you a chance to win.”

 

Wells and USU know the enormity of this game and that they aren’t as good or talented as MSU.  For them to compete it is 60 straight, mistake free minutes.  He said, “The bull mascot may have an advantage. The first game is a lot about us. I would think that they would think the same thing. It’s how they do it and what they do. It’s the same thing for us for what we’re going to do, and how are we going to defend the run. It’s what we do on offense. We have to be who we are. If we execute and give ourselves a chance and don’t turn the ball over, that’ll help you be in the game in the second half. That’s what we did last year in the opener against another Big Ten opponent. We just broke down in the third quarter. Are we better this year and able to avoid that?”

 

Utah State is loaded on special teams.  They are very good.  One of the best and football games can be predicated on mistakes.  Especially on special teams.  Dantonio said of the aggies special teams that, “I look at Utah State very quickly, I look at them as a total football team. Their special teams stand out, outstanding punter, and they blocked four punts last year, returned one for a touchdown as well. They make things happen on special teams.”

Brian Lewerke is a great QB.  You may remember that I said to you while Connor Cook was still here that many though if Cook went down for any significant time that Lewerke would never give the job up.

I can tell you that there is NO QB competition on this team.  Lewerke is the man.  But backup Rocky Lombardi is a star and I am hearing the same thing from multiple people.  That if Lewerke would go down (and NO ONE WANTS THAT) for any significant amount of time so Lombardi could get some real experience, that he would not give Lewerke back his job.  That speaks to the depth and talent on this team.

Extra Point…

Utah State is a good football team.  Not Ohio State, but a good football team.  In games like this, for them to get an upset it requires Michigan State to help.  MSU doesn’t not have to play perfect, or close to it to win.  Utah State does and they have to have some help from the Spartans.

 

The players are well aware of how good this team up.  Is Dantonio afraid that they are, “Too fired up?”  He said, “I just believe in total focus, and excitement and enthusiasm, but they need to have focus. They know what needs to be done, getting themselves ready to do that, quietly prepare.  Enthusiasm in the locker room, does that carry out into the field? 10, 15 minutes later you may see a great highlight film of them all amped up, they go out on the field and just poof (hand points down). Might be the opposite. I’m more interested in how are they at game time and moments as they play. That to me tells the story.”

 

Wells and USU know that this is their Super Bowl of sorts.  But they aren’t stupid and they know how deep and talented the Spartans are.

 

Wells admitted it saying, “The thing you kind of look at is the consistency they’ve had in their coaching staff and their schemes. That’s the first thing you’re looking for. Then, as you see the players, certainly, there’s a lot of them coming back. It’s not hard to see LJ Scott all over the tape, especially at the end of the year. Their quarterback (Brian Lewerke) is extremely athletic and he can throw it on the run very, especially to his left. He’s very good. They have a very good receiving corps. They have the ability to high-point a ball. They’ve got speed. I keep hearing it’s one of the best in the Big Ten. It certainly is with the front seven on defense, and they have an extremely talented secondary, but that front seven is maybe the best we’ll see this year.”

 

Prediction…

 

Dantonio analyzed his team this year earlier this week.  He has to really look hard to find some warts.  He said, “We have a tailback back that could play in the NFL. Our offensive line is back. We’ve got guys up there (offensive line) that can bench 400 pounds across the board. We’ve got good wide receivers in there, caught about 150 passes, or 160 probably, so we’ve got a lot of catches back. We’ve got guys that have big games at the wide receiver position, whether it is Darrell Stewart, Cody White, Felton Davis, they have all had big games.”

He went on to add, “We’ve got a quarterback back that accounts for 3,200 yards and 25 touchdowns. I think we’re in a system and we have coaches on the offensive side are back, so there is a system so we can critique those things.”

He turned to the defense in his analysis and said, “On the defensive side of the ball, we didn’t lose anybody in the secondary. All our linebackers are back with the exception of Chris Frey, and we lost one player on the defensive front.”

Not hiding his excitement he continued with, “We have a lot of players back from a football team that ranked number two in the country against the run, and we played pretty well against the pass as well. With all that said, we need to play and tackle in space, do all the things we need to do.”

He expounded on the special teams saying, “On the special teams, our punter, Jake Hartbarger, is back. Matt Coghlin had a pretty good year last year, hit the crossbar, pretty difficult to do, three times. We really missed one. Inches away from making the rest.”

And continued with, “I think we’ve got guys who run down on special teams with experience. When you look at our starters, it’s not just that, it’s our kickoff team is almost unchanged in a lot of ways, so we’ve got a lot of players back that have done these other things, as well.”

Dantonio said, “Again, I go back to the intangibles, unselfishness, the experience, the knowledge of their position. All that sends a strong message you should feel good about it. But this is a new day; this is 2018. Like I said, there’s a reason that I put my name (on my shirt) and I have everybody put their name on their helmets when we go to camp because we’re all starting over. There are no guarantees. We need to play. We need to get ready to play and go about our business.”

As coyly as he could he concluded with, “That’s a pretty good scouting report though (smiling).”

To me this game is simple.  Utah State is a good team.  MSU is better, much better.  As they “HEAVE” towards a Big Ten Title they are facing the man in the mirror more than the Aggies.  If the Spartans come in with a taking care of business approach, they dominate.  In the end I say MSU wins this 38-10.

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