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So exactly how excited should I be about this year’s football recruiting class?

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Go (Michigan) State!

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Mini-Game Preview

MSU big picture: Following the collapse against Ohio State, the Spartans have resumed playing at their season-long steady-Eddie level–roughly the level of the #25 team in the country.  They’re currently ranked higher than #25 in the polls and computer ratings because they’ve been so consistent from game to game–and they’ve made and/or caught enough breaks to turn nine of their ten 80ish game rating performances into wins.

(Patented Spartans Weblog Game Rating System: Point differential plus opponent’s Sagarin rating plus home/away factor.  Major caveats: (1) inherent small sample size of college football season, (2) final point differential may not accurately reflect game performance, (3) footballs have pointy ends and random stuff happens.  Game rating of 80 is roughly equivalent to the level of the #25 team in the country.)

Penn State, meanwhile, has played above the level of a #25 team all season–and has played well above that level for the most the season.  Even the loss to Iowa doesn’t look very bad in this system: a one-point loss on the road to a team that’s shown top 25 ability throughout the season (despite some close losses).

For MSU to win this game, they’re going to have to play significantly above their baseline level of performance, and they’re going to need Penn State to play at the bottom of its range of performances to date–or really lay an egg.

If you clicked on the third football link above (BSD stat comparison), you saw that the only statistical edge MSU has over the Nittany Lions is its pass defense vs. the Lions’ pass offense.  It’s not a huge edge–MSU ranks 39th in the country in passing yards allowed per game, while Penn State ranks 51st in the nation in passing yards gained per game–but it’s a glimmer of hope.

And, as seen in the graph below, Penn State’s passing offense has been less efficient over the last three weeks than it had been up to that point.  They’ve averaged less than 7.0 yards per pass attempt in the last three games, after having exceeded that mark in all eight of their previous games.

If MSU is to make a run at winning this game, they’ll need to force Penn State QB Daryll Clark into making some bad throws.  To do that, they’ll need to overcome the fact that Penn State has only allowed 1.0 sack per game through 11 games.

And putting Clark in tough passing situations means stopping the run.  To date, the only team to hold Penn State to less than 4.0 yards/rushing attempt, has been Wisconsin (numbers have been adjusted for sacks).  Penn State RB Evan Royster has only carried the ball 20 times or more in one game this season (against Iowa, ironically).  I’d be surprised if he doesn’t add a second 20-carry game on Saturday.

As much as Penn State’s “Spread HD” offense has generated a lot of headlines, it’s their defense that’s been the larger strength.  Only one team (Ohio State) has averaged more than 8.0 yards per pass attempt against the Lions, and only one team (Michigan) has averaged more than 5.0 yards per rushing attempt against them.

There will be very little margin for error on offense for MSU.  If ever there was a time to find the perfect mix of running Javon Ringer up the middle and putting Hoyer in the position to make big plays off play action, this is it.  The last four weeks, Penn State has allowed its opponent to hang with them through halftime.  If the Penn State offense isn’t hitting on all cylinders early in the game this week, MSU will need to take advantage of that by scoring some points early.

One final glimmer of hope: Penn State has turned the ball over five times in their last two games.  If that trend continues, that would obviously go quite a ways in evening out the multiple advantages Penn State has going into this game.  (Reason for worry: Penn State has forced its opponent to turn the ball over two or more times in 7 of its 11 games.)

A win on Saturday would be the defining moment of what’s already been a very successful season.  But a solid performance in a loss would be no shame either; only two teams have played Penn State to within single digits this season.  If MSU can play toe to toe with a top 10 team in one of the most hostile road environments in the country, that would go along way toward proving this isn’t just a team that can squeak out wins against mid-level competition but collapses against the big boys (the way we did against the Buckeyes).

Game time is 3:30 on ABC.  Sagarin likes Penn State by 11.  The guys in Vegas say Penn State by 15.5

Coffee Talk: What are your expectations going into Saturday’s game?  What scenarios can you conjure up that would lead to a Spartan victory in Happy Valley?

Oh, and will you be rooting for our friends from Ann Arbor at noon, or following Coach Dantonio’s lead?

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Basketball links first:

Football links second:

Game time for MSU-Purdue is noon on BTN.  Sagarin says MSU by 14.5.  The guys with their money on the line only like us by 9.5.  My gut says this will be a fairly tight game.  From a Karma perspective, I worry a little, given that we’ve now won three conference games against lower-tier opponents (IU/Iowa/Wisc) that we easily could have lost if 1-2 breaks had gone the other way.

More rationally, hopefully this game represents a chance for MSU to get back to the grind-it-out running game Dantonio prefers.  Ringer’s held up this long; might as well give him the ball 35 times again with the bye week coming up.  Purdue’s been pretty vulnerable to the run most of the year, with every opponent attempting at least 30 rushes (I’ve removed sacks from the data):

Opponent Rush Att Rush Yds Yds/Att
N COL 35 128 3.7
ORE 43 306 7.1
CMU 34 176 5.2
ND 39 209 5.4
PSU 38 216 5.7
OSU 39 144 3.7
NW 41 204 5.0
MINN 30 134 4.5
MICH 34 198 5.8

While the whole run-the-ball-to-keep-the-other-team’s-offense-off-the-field strategy is often overstated, it may work in this game by keeping the MSU defense fresh enough to chase down Siller when he runs with the ball.

One more positive statistical sign: Purdue’s only created 5 turnovers in their last 6 games, while giving up 14 turnovers over the same period.

With the only two games left on the schedule after this one being the road game vs. Penn State and a probable bowl game against a highly-ranked SEC/Big 12 team, this is MSU’s last chance to use the run-the-ball-and-create-a-positive-turnover-margin formula for a victory against a lower-quality opponent.  If they can do that, a 9-4 season becomes the worst case scenario for a team many pundits (including this one) thought would do well to get to 7 wins again.

GO STATE!

Update: Forgot to include a Coffee Talk question.  Here you go: How much do you expect the MSU defense to struggle if Siller is, in fact, the Purdue QB?  We don’t have a very good sample size in terms of dealing with running quarterbacks.  Kevin Riley of Cal was mobile, but ended up beating us with the pass instead of the run.  Kellen Lewis didn’t play most of the IU game.  C.J. Bachet hurt us a little bit on the ground (43 yards).  We obviously couldn’t stop Terrell Pryor when he scrambed, but I’m not sure he’s really comarable to any mortal running quarterback.

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Just one link: ESPN.com’s Adam Rittenberg reports that, due to not playing an FCS patsie, MSU still controls its own destiny with respect to the Rose Bowl.  I wouldn’t book your plane tickets to Pasadena just yet, though.

Regarding the upcoming football game vs. the Badgers: At noon on Saturday, I anticipate I’ll be frolicking on a beach with my family.  And this is probably my last post until early next week.  So the pregame/during-game/postgame discussion is all on you guys.

Also, if any of you make it to the Green-White game, feel free to post your impressions here.

Here’s a topic to get the football discussion started: At 7-2, the MSU football team has exceeded just about everyone’s expectations going into this season.  But it’s hard to put my finger on which players in particular have been break-out performers.  Beyond Javon Ringer, who would you say has been Michigan State’s team MVP to date?

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There’s still time left to take a shot at winning a free copy of College Basketball Prospectus 2008-09 by sharing your best Spartan memories.

Links from enemy territory:

The computers like MSU in this one.  The FEI forecast says MSU 28 OSU 18.  The Sagarin ratings say MSU by half a point.  But the guys with money on the line say OSU by 3.5.

Game time is 3:30 on the American Broadcasting Company network.

I’ll be in Detroit over the weekend to run the half-marathon Sunday morning, so I don’t expect I’ll have a game recap up until some time late on Sunday.  Anyone know a good bar/restaurant to watch the game at in D-town?

I have no gut feeling on this game.  So let’s hear your thoughts.  Who are the key players on each side of the ball who need to step up if MSU is to pull this one out?

And Go Green!

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With Northwestern on its bye last weekend, the prolific Lake the Posts has been even more prolific than normal in producing MSU-vs.-Northwestern content:

According to both the pollsters and the Sagarin ratings, this team features the current 3rd and 4th best teams in the conference, which is somewhat surreal.  Sagarin predicts a Northwestern win by 2.5 points.  The FEI ratings like the Wildcats even more, predicting a 28-23 Northwestern win.  The bettors, meanwhile, think our Spartans have some extra moxie the computers don’t know about: The current Vegas lines favor MSU by a point and a half (with an over/under of just 47 points–quite low given the recent history of this series).

This game is basically a coin flip.  Whichever team triumphs will pick up a sixth win and become a good bet to go at least 8-4.  The Spartans Weblog keys to the game:

  • Establish the running game.  In Northwestern’s first Big Ten game against Iowa, they gave up 159 yards on 21 carries (7.6 yards/carry) to Shonn Green.  So they may be more vulnerable than other Big Ten opponents to Dantonio’s “40 carries and a gimpy running back” philosophy.  Oversimplistic statistical prediction: If Javon Ringer gains at least 4 yards on 2 of his first 3 first-down rushing attempts, MSU wins the game.
  • The secondary has to tackle.  C.J. Bacher is completing a good percentage (59.4%) of his passes but those completions generally aren’t leading to big gains (10.0 yards/completion).  And he’s only been sacked twice in five games, so he’ll likely have time to throw for short completions.  MSU’s banged up defensive backs will have to play error-free against a no-huddle offense for four full quarters to stop Northwestern from scoring on short catches that turn into long gains.

Note that these keys to the game cumulatively result in the following equation: Score more points than they do.

Basketball season can’t come soon enough, eh?  Can anybody improve on these keys to the game?

Game time is 3:30 on ESPN2.

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