We've seen a lot of Sparty this year, and we wanted to know more about Dantonio's gang this year. For that, we talked to Pete Rossman, the man who is the Managing Editor of The Only Colors, which is the Michigan State SBNation community.
We of course thank Pete for his contributions to us today, as invite you to follow him during the game on twitter as well as checking out their community. And behave, mind you. We're all civilized here.
1. So, pretty decent start to the season for the Spartans, save the 2nd half of the Oregon game where it got away from y’all a little bit. Thoughts on the season so far?
Despite that second half of Oregon, it's still been a very good season to this point. The offense has performed a 180 from last season, and now ranks third in the FBS in points scored (against three patsies and Oregon, but still). The passing game looks excellent, the Spartans are beginning to get fully healthy once again, and the defense 90% of the time looks great. I'll get to the other 10% later.
2. Connor Cook is as steady as it comes, but it seems like his numbers this season are even better than last year. What’s the deal with Cook, and what are you expecting on Saturday night?
Matt Hinton over at Grantland did a great breakdown of Cook a couple days ago, so I'll point you there first. Long story short -- his accuracy has improved tremendously over the past 12 months, but he still has a tendency to force passes into double or triple coverage if pressured, which can obviously lead to turnovers. I'm expecting a Nebraska defense that's been in the top 20 in FBS in opponents' passer rating to challenge Cook, but I believe he'll get a few big gains. He'll most likely be the best QB the Huskers face this year in a non-bowl game.
3. Jeremy Langford is averaging over 5 yards a carry, and seems to be running pretty well to the point he’s being overlooked cause of the seasons of Tevin Coleman, Ameer Abdullah and Melvin Gordon. What’s been the secret to his success?
Part of his success last season was his stamina. As the game went on he seemed to get stronger, so it's no coincidence he had four runs of 30+ yards that went for scores in the fourth quarter of games last season. He had a slight injury that kept him out of most of the Spartans' first game, but he doesn't seem to be injured anymore. While I wouldn't consider Langford elite in any one aspect, he has many of the characteristics of top running backs: very good size, speed, lateral movement, and the ability to block on passing plays.
4. Tony Lippett is the only receiver you have that has hit double digits on catches, but he’s head and shoulders above everyone on the roster. What’s the secret to the success with Lippett, and who else has been stepping up in catching the ball?
Lippett has fairly good height for a wide receiver, but he is a bit skinny (6'3", 185 lbs.). The one area that he's improved upon in the past year or two is his hands. He used to drop quite a few passes during his early years, but he was a quarterback in high school, and that's been part of his success; he can run accurate routes. It's hard to get a read on who will step up because the first string has only played the entirety of one game, but for another player who's a deep threat I'd single out A.J. Troup. The former walk-on has had problems with injuries so far in his career, but he's been a very good possession receiver for MSU in their first four games.
5. Defensively, this team has been pretty solid... except of course, that second half in Eugene. With the success of the Nebraska offense in recent weeks, does the thought of going against a Ameer Abdullah or such put worry in you or the fanbase, or do you welcome the fight and think you’ll shut the rushing attack of Nebraska down?
Abdullah was one of the two best running backs the Spartans faced last season, along with Carlos Hyde, and Abdullah will most likely be the best running back MSU will face this season. While facing him will be a struggle, MSU's run defense has been a bit better than their passing defense to this point in the season. What MSU will have to look out for is if and when Abdullah gets past the front seven. The MSU secondary has looked uncharacteristically shaky at points this season, so the defensive line and linebackers have to stop him before he gets a head of steam rolling. If MSU can hold him to around four yards a carry, it'll be a good day.
6. It’s amazing to me that Mark Dantonio and his staff have not done that great in recruiting wars across Big Ten country, yet seem to have solid players and units year in and out. What’s been the staff’s secret in doing this?
They haven't done great, but they haven't been mediocre either. They've ranked around 4th-5th in the Big Ten in recruiting in past seasons. The main reason for MSU's success is their retention and development of players. I'd say on average there are about 2-3 transfers out of the program each season, and (also an estimation) about 80% of players on average are redshirted. This gives players like Langford, Cook, and Shilique Calhoun time to learn the system and develop physically. So while MSU has few players that are stars from day one, by 2-3 years' time they're solid Big Ten performers.
7. A lot of folks wearing Red are expected to visit East Lansing this weekend for the game. For those that are reading and heading to town, where should they be partaking in food and beverage consumption, as well as the best spots to hang out?
We have a whole visitors' guide for Nebraska fans to check out, y'all can find that here. The very, very short version: head to HopCat if you want your choice of beer (100 beers on tap), Crunchy's for a burger and a bucket of beer, and The Peanut Barrel if you want a darned good Long Island Iced Tea.
8. Tell us about anyone else that we should watch out for that you have not mentioned above already.
Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush have been great at defensive end so far. They've combined for 7.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks, and they'll be looking to make the Huskers one-dimensional. The other defensive player I'd like to mention is linebacker Ed Davis. He leads MSU in sacks (3), and he'll be someone Nebraska must account for on obvious passing downs, because the Spartans love to blitz.
9. Alright, time for a prediction. It’s the game of the year (so far) in the B1G. Who is going to win and how will the game go down?
Nebraska and MSU have been two of the biggest scoring teams in college football so far this season, so naturally I'm going to assume the opposite will occur here and it'll be a fairly tight game. I think Abdullah goes over 100 yards and gets two scores, but MSU manages to fluster Tommy Armstrong and force a couple interceptions. It's a close game, but a 250+ yard passing performance from Connor Cook leads the Spartans to a 28-17 victory.