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November 13, 2011IOWA CITY, Iowa - Some exit analysis of Michigan State's 37-21 victory over Iowa, Saturday at Kinnick Stadium:
Le'Veon Bell gained 9 on a weakside lead, behind Todd Anderson.
Then Bell gained 4 on a new-wrinkle, off-tackle lead, again behind Anderson. Bell had room for more, but he tripped. Things looked good.
Then Bell gained 5 more out of the shot gun on a tackle pull, another new wrinkle, behind Fou Fonoti.
In past games, when the Spartans had success on the ground, they seemed to go away from it. This time, they kept pounding the rock.
On third-and-one, Bell gained 6 on a counter toss, making a terrific cut inside of a defensive end.
Then Edwin Baker gained 11 on 'power', behind pulling right guard Chris McDonald.
Next play, first-and-goal, Kirk Cousins passed to B.J. Cunningham on a slant for an 8-yard TD. MSU led 7-0. It was as crisp as the Spartan offense has looked all season.
"Coach (Dan) Roushar came out today running the ball. Prove a point," Bell said. "We ran the ball and that's a good reason why we won this game."
Iowa's run defense is not as good as its been in past years. But that's okay for Michigan State. The Spartans have had trouble running the ball even against mediocre defenses this year. MSU went into the game ranked No. 12 in the Big Ten in rushing offense. But the Spartans rushed for 155, with Bell averaging 5.6 yards per carry on the day.
Late in the first half, Bell had a 24-yard TD run, again out of the shot gun, and a three-WR formation, with McDonald pulling on 'power' action. Is was mixture of MSU inside strength and a spread look.
It was nothing ground-breaking, but these were things Iowa had not seen on film from MSU.
"We felt we needed to have that more in our repertoire," Dantonio said. "I think we were able to hit them on a couple of things. Some of it is just geared toward what we have to be able to do better and geared toward our tendencies. It wasn't like, 'Hey we can do this against Iowa.' It was more us."
1. Mike Sadler pounded a 54-yard punt, which was downed at the 2-yard line with 2:59 left in the first half.
2. Four snaps later, Keshawn Martin returned a punt 20 yards to the Iowa 35-yard line.
3. Four plays later, after Bell's 24-yard TD run, Jeremy Gainer caused a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. [On the very next play, Cousins threw a 26-yard TD pass to B.J. Cunningham].
1. When Bell's helmet broke, Baker went in for him, ran a route designed for Bell, and turned it into a 17-yard TD reception, the first of Baker's career.
2. When Kurtis Drummond went down with an undisclosed injury in the second half, sophomore Jairus Jones took his place as the fifth DB in the nickel defense. Making his first game appearance of the season in a regular defensive role, Jones hit Iowa tight end Zach Derby, and caused a fumble at the MSU 8-yard line. MSU recovered with 2:53 remaining, essentially wrapping up victory.
Jones sustained an Achilles tendon injury during spring practice in April and didn't return to the practice field until midway through the fall.
"Big play in the game," said Mark Dantonio "We are sort of hanging on (at that point) because they were (in position to) cut it to six or eight.
"He was our nickel back last year. He is a guy that has been on the field, so it was great to see him returning. Jairus Jones is a very good football player and he was an important part of this. He is very well-liked by our team."
"We're right where we want to be, with two weeks to go in the regular season," Cousins said.
What about the class after that?
"That sounds good to me," said sophomore Max Bullough. "That's the track we're on right now. With Coach Dantonio getting his players here, I think we're on that track and we're headed for it."
Inside The Play: Iowa likes to play man-to-man on third-and-long. MSU read the coverage, and wanted to get Bell matched up against Iowa middle linebacker Tyler Nielsen.
"We felt all week that we had a chance there, with Le'veon on the Mike linebacker, to get him open over the middle of the field and it worked just like we hoped it would," Cousins said "You have to credit Le'Veon with getting open and beating his man."
It was a little crossing route.
"I knew the linebacker was on me," Bell said. "My first instinct was to just try to run around him, and beat him. But he kind of played over the top so I went under him. I looked back and Kirk was running, trying to buy time, so I kind of threw my hand up, let him know where I was at, and he threw it to me.
"That's something that we practice all the time. He trusted me to catch the ball."
On the first play of the fourth quarter, with Iowa having grabbed momentum by cutting the lead to 34-21, Cousins momentarily quieted the storm by throwing to Brian Linthicum upfield and into the seam between the two deep safeties for a gain of 21 yards.
When MSU attempted a similar play against Minnesota, Linthicum had trouble getting past the linebacker assigned to cover him. This time, Linthicum seemed to take a more rounded release in getting around the LB, and then was able to get a step of separation.
MSU still hasn't enjoyed the level of game-breaking skill it expected from tight ends this year, due to bumps and dings. But consider this pass progress.
"Johnny can play the field side or the strong side, in zone or man, so we could still pretty much call anything and Johnny would be able to cover it," said Trenton Robinson.
Not Good Enough
Center Travis Jackson volunteered to take the blame. Jackson was back in the starting lineup after sitting out the Minnesota game.
"Being out with a concussion last week, we had a little trouble in practice (with snaps)," Jackson said, "but I think it was mainly my fault just not getting it up there, on the goal line especially because you are trying to fire out and sometimes you don't get it out as much. So I take full blame for that. So we'll work on it this week and get it fixed."
There was an additional fumble due to poor ball care in the second quarter when Cousins collided with the fullback on his way to attempting to hand off the ball to the tailback. MSU recovered that one.
It would have been a 45-yard field goal from that distance. Conroy had already missed from 49.
On third-and-long, Cousins was tackled for a 3-yard loss on what was either the worst quarterback draw ever, or the shortest read and scramble ever. What had been a 45-yarder was stretched to a 48-yarder. Conroy made this field goal, but it shouldn't have been from that distance.
If MSU had that third-and-17 to do over again, they would probably like to execute an inside zone run, which likely would have gone for at least three or four yards, creating a 41-yarder rather than a 48-yarder.
But it all worked out.
In this case, playing two-man offered MSU the opportunity to stick Adams on McNutt and lock him up. Iowa pased to McNutt, and Adams broke it up.
Four minutes left? Up 16 points. That's pretty much ballgame, right?
Gholston was flagged for a personal foul, getting a hand up into the face of the Iowa right tackle. Uneccessary and unacceptable.
Gholston is one of the more rapidly-improving defensive ends in college football. He is a star, on his way toward becoming a regular, dominating force.
He's had problems with ill-timed fouls in the past. But this one was his worst. It was an undisciplined, selfish play.
Dantonio shook his head in semi-disgust. It didn't appear that Dantonio had many words for Gholston. But that approach isn't working. It's time for Dantonio to go Saban on Gholston, the way Saban did with Robaire Smith after a late hit on Drew Brees on third down at Purdue in 1999, or the way Saban gave it to Ike Reese after a personal foul at Louisville in 1996.
Well, it might hurt recruiting if Dantonio went at Gholston that hard. But the message doesn't seam to be getting through to Gholston. A more aggressive approach seems necessary.
For the long-term however, MSU is going to need a back-up corner who can perform better than that. Lippett is headed in that direction. But he's not there yet.
Dennard was nearly cleared to return to the Iowa game. It will be interesting to see if MSU tries to get Dennard another week of rest and sit him out of the Old Brass Spittoon border skirmish with Indiana next week. Lippett could use some extra work, but not at the expense of more broken plays, such as the 64-yard TD error Lipppett had a hand in during the Minnesota game (in fairness, Robinson and Isaiah Lewis missed tackles on that play too, but Lippett was the last chance guy.]
Robinson is nursing a sore shoulder. He would probably welcome a day off, but he won't request one - not on Senior Day.
But if MSU is fortunate to get a comfortable lead against Indiana, the Spartans would like nothing better than to rest Robinson and get some time for a back-up safety. The extent of Drummond's injury is not yet known. Jairus Jones made a huge play late in the game causing the fumble, but Jones didn't look like he was all the way back up to speed when trying to chase down a loose Hawkeye on kickoff coverage.
Some how some way, MSU needs to get some reserve DBs playing fast and ready.