It is somewhat difficult to provide an analysis of games like the one we played last weekend against Purdue, and the one we will play this weekend against Michigan State. It is a paycheck game, pure and simple. But having said that, it just so happens that every now and then a MAC team pulls off an upset in one of these payday games, so the prevailing feeling when settling in to watch one is, “Why not us?”.
Last week I provided plenty of reasons why we were unlikely to pull an upset, so this week it seems appropriate to check where we improved, and where we stagnated.
For starters, the running game looked much better. That’s good. Rather than pounding into the interior of the line, we allowed our backs to utilize their speed in space, and Sherrer and Greene performed very well against a Big Ten defense. This improvement in the running game bodes well, and provides a degree of optimism for the rest of the MAC schedule. However…
Our passing game was atrocious. That’s bad. Alex Gillett continues his regression, with poor decision making being the biggest flaw. He threw some truly awful passes, not the least of which was his second interception, the one where he had all the time in the world in the pocket and still proceeded to throw into double coverage and get picked off. Gillett’s running has regressed as well, he doesn’t seem to have the vision that he had last year. Tyler Benz showed some flashes, and if Gillett doesn’t improve, why not give Benz a shot? But we are not there yet. If Eastern is to somehow pull a decent season out of this mess, they will need Gillett playing at least at last year’s level.
The defense made some big plays. That’s good. Pudge Cotton is fast turning into a player I want to see on the field on a regular basis. The D-line was a little more stout than in previous games. The defense overall showed something that has been missing: pride and emotion. Which is good, because…
Our lack of team speed on defense was exposed. That’s bad. Too many big runs, too many big plays. We do have some heady players on defense, but Eastern is not ready to compete with the BCS conference teams. For now, I’ll settle with beating FCS and MAC teams. I hope some time in the film room will help these guys learn to stick with their assignments. The defense has little margin for error, and being out of position for a second or two is all it takes to watch the opposition take it to the house.
What about this week? After having their offense exposed by Notre Dame, my guess is that Mark Dantonio and the Spartans pull out all the stops and put on an offensive clinic against the Eagles. Sparty will be pissed off, and they will take it out on us.
The good news is that State QB Andrew Maxwell is mistake prone. Whether or not he makes mistakes against our D is yet to be seen. My guess is that State will have little trouble running the ball, and that will free up Maxwell to have a better showing with his arm.
If I were to predict a final score, I would say MSU 49, Eastern 12. That’s two missed extra points, in case you were wondering.