Wednesday, September 14, 2005

ND Football 2005

Issue 3: MSU

MSU Rush Offense vs. ND Rush Defense

A new year and a new offense for the Spartans. Despite running multiple-receiver sets, Michigan State is still averaging 276 yards per game on the ground. The three-headed attack is led by Jehuu Caulcrick, Javon Ringer, and Jason Teague. Teague, the starter, is questionable with a suspension for misdemeanor assault. If he and his 89 yards from week one don't play, Caulcrick's 114.5 YPG and Ringer's 74.5 should be able to amply cover. MSU's primary formation calls for three receivers and a tight end, so there is no fullback. Quarterback Drew Stanton is always a running threat, despite only picking up 3 yards on the ground next week.
Notre Dame can handle the run in its base 4-3, but how will it do in its nickel and dime formations. This week may be the first showcase of the Apache position. Will linebacker Maurice Crum stay in to guard against the run, covering a wide receiver when necessary? Or will the Irish employ the nickel, in the hopes that the front four and the very good Brandon Hoyte and Corey Mays are enough against Stanton and the Spartan backs?

ND Rush Offense vs. MSU Rush Defense

Darius Walker has once again been a model of consistency, with games of 100 and 104 yards so far. As one source mentioned, Walker has yet to break the big one, but he gets as much as he can out of each single run. Behind him (or, should I say in front of him), Rashon Powers-Neal has been used effectively when lining up at both fullback and halfback. RPM has averaged 30 yards per game thus far.
Michigan State's run defense has yet to see a true test in Kent State and Hawaii. That hasn't stopped them from getting in the backfield, though. The Spartans have already picked up 13 tackles for a loss en route to a 68.5 YPG average against them. MSU's answer to the Apache linebacker is the "Bandit," SirDarean Adams (seriously, do MSU recruit solely based on unusual first names?). Adams leads the team with 16 tackles and 3 backfield stops. Representative of their recent opponents' lack of run games, linebacker Kaleb Thornhill and DE Michael Bazemore are the only non-defensive back among the team's top 8 tacklers.

MSU Pass Offense vs. ND Pass Defense

An Urban Meyer-like spread attack has gotten returning starter Drew Stanton> off to a good start at quarterback. Stanton is averaging just under 300 passing yards per game, albeit against the likes of Kent (not a) State and Hawaii. Stanton has a trio of receivers putting up great numbers so far. In two games, Kyle Brown, Jerramy Scott, and Terry Love have combined for 31 catches and 452 yards. Brown and Scott appear to be the go-to guys, each with 10+ catches, while Love and Matt Trannon look to be the deep threats. All in all, Staton has hit 12 different targets, but most of his passes will be going to the four wide receivers.
Notre Dame, not thought to have a good pass defense this year (or for the pass 3+ years), has limited opponents to 221.5 passing yards per game in 2005. Granted, those numbers have come from two supposedly good passing offenses who greatly underperformed against the Irish. Michigan State's multiple receiver sets will test the Irish secondary, especially non-starters like Leo Ferrine, David Bruton, LaBrose Hedgemon, and Terrail Lambert. I'm just speculating here, but I wouldn't be surprised if Anthony Vernaglia got some playing time in this one as well. To aid the secondary, the pass rush will have to step up. So far, the team's sack leader has been Brandon Hoyte with 3. If the line can be effective with just a four man rush, with the occassional blitz from Hoyte and Corey Mays thrown in, Notre Dame should be able to (relatively) contain the Spartan passing attack. Of course, the blitzes will have to be chosen wisely, or else Tom Zbikowski will have a busy day going after running backs on draw plays.

ND Pass Offense vs. MSU Pass Defense

Notre Dame's pass offense to this point may not be exciting, but it is effective. Brady Quinn has completed 37 of his 57 pass attempts for 367 yards. Not counting Darius Walker's 51 yard TD run on a screen pass, Quinn's longest pass play has been for 27 yards. Walker and TE Anthony Fasano have been Quinn's favorite targets so far, with 8 catches each. Next is receiver Jeff Samardzija, who has 7 catches and has caught two of Quinn's four touchdowns. Samardzija also leads the team in yards per game with 43. A big weapon missing this Saturday will be Rhema McKnight, who left the Michigan game with a knee injury. McKnight is not lost for the entire season, but he definitely won't be ready for the Michigan State game. Starting in McKnights place will be speedster Matt Shelton, who has only one catch in limited action so far this year. However, it will likely be Samardzija who will step up in Rhema's absence.
Despite the relatively weak competition, Michigan State has given up some yardage in the air. 268.5 yards per game, to be exact. Their "big play" numbers aren't too impressive, either. Kaleb Thornhill and cornerback Ashton Watson have the team's only two interceptions, while five players have contributed one sack a piece.

Special Teams

Michigan State's placekicker is junior John Goss, who has no field goal attempts in 2005 or 2004. He is perfect on PAT's in 8 attempts, however. For the Irish, returning placekicker DJ Fitzpatrick has made his lone field goal attempt, coming from 43 yards.
John Goss handles the punting duties for the Spartans, and I'm frankly surprised that he's been used 5 times already this year. Fields has an average of 44.4 yards and a long of 67. Fitzpatrick has punted 12 times for the Irish in 2005, with an average of 42.3 yards and a long of 60.
The MSU kick returners for Saturday are listed as Demond Williams and SirDarean Adams. However, only Williams, Jerramy Scott, and Jaren Hayes have had returns so far this year. Each has had one - Williams' was for 14 yards, Scott's for 11, and Hayes' for 23. ND kickoff specialist (aka "Make sure DJ's leg doesn't fall off specialist") Carl Gioia is averaging 55.5 yards per kick, giving opponents a start around the 10 yard line. From there, the Irish are giving up 16.9 yards per kick return.
Justin Hoskins and Brandon Harris are ND's kick returners. Hoskins has returned two kicks for 24 yards each, while Harris has had one return for 11 yards. MSU's kickoff specialist is Brandon Fields averages 63.5 yards per kick. That means that, when Fields' kicks don't reach the end zone (as 6 of 14 have this year), they make it to about the two yard line. From there, the Spartans have given up an average average of 21.5 yards per return.
Kyle Brown has primarily handled punt returns for the Spartans, although fellow receivers Terry "Don't Call me Spoony" Love and Carl Grimes have also seen action. Brown has been the main threat, picking up 63 yards on 3 returns, including a long of 46. ND's punt coverage team has been stifling so far this year, giving up only 5.2 yards per return.
ND's punt return duties will again be handled by a rotation of David Grimes and Tom Zbikowski. Zbikowski is the only player to actually have a return this year. He's had two, in fact, one for 19 yards and one for 23. Michigan State, meanwhile, is very good on punt coverage as well, giving up only 6.3 yards per return.

Look for a big game from Walker, Samardzija, Mays, Zbikowski, Fitzpatrick

ND 27, MSU 20: Walker and RPN on the ground, Shelton in the air, and two kicks by DJ (one set up by a turnover) will be just too much for the Spartans.

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