2011 Michigan State Spartans Football
Michigan State vs Youngstown State Football Preview
When the Michigan State Spartans host the Youngstown State Penguins to open a new season, they won’t be able to fully expunge the bitter taste of the 2011 Capital One Bowl blowout loss against Alabama. They can re-establish all the good things they did last year and reaffirm the new identity they seek for themselves.
Heading into the 2010 season, few expected much more than a bowl bid for the Michigan State Spartans. With Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Iowa all ranked and favorites to contend of the Big Ten, few thought Michigan State would do more than the usual 6-8 wins it has averaged under Mark Dantonio. Despite the low expectations, Dantonio’s team displayed a remarkable knack for pulling off wins in close games and took advantage of not having to face Ohio State and posted an incredible 11-1 regular season record that landed them in a three way tie for the Big Ten Championship. Even though they suffered an embarrassing bowl loss to Alabama, Dantonio’s Spartans earned national respect for overachieving and now have increased expectations with much of that team returning in 2011. The question is, how much of the “magic” they had in late games can be recreated in 2011?
Kirk Cousins was a relatively unheralded quarterback before among Big Ten quarterbacks coming into 2010, but now he’s the unquestioned leader of the Spartans’ offense entering his senior season. Cousins threw for 2,825 yards and 20 touchdowns last season and should put up even bigger numbers in 2011. He can expect to put up big numbers because virtually all of his targets from 2010 return. Keshawn Martin, BJ Cunningam, and Keith Nichol all saw significant playing time in 2010. Cunningham caught nine touchdowns and is the biggest returning threat. Brian Linthicum takes over at tight end but even he caught 18 passes last season in a reserve role.
For all of the emphasis on the improved passing game, however, Michigan State will still earn its wins on the back of its running game. The Spartans certainly have the horses for it. All six of the teams leading rushers from a year ago return, giving them the opportunity to platoon their backs and keep them all fresh. Edwin Baker rushed for 1201 yards and 13 touchdowns while Le’Veon Bell added 605 yards and another 8 touchdowns. Baker is the powerful, between the tackles runner while Bell is the homerun threat. The challenge in establishing the running game will come in replacing three of five offensive line starters. Only guards Chris McDonald and Joel Foreman return.
The picture on defense is a bit murkier for Dantonio. Whereas the offense returns its key pieces and has replacements to make on the line, the defense is loses its four unquestioned leaders but should be solid along the line. Defensive tackles Jerel Worthy and Kevin Pickelman are a load inside. Worthy led the team in sacks last season which is rare for a defensive tackle. Tyler Hoover is an enormous defensive end at 6-7, 275 pounds. He’s stout against the run and is very difficult to move while also chipping in three sacks last season.
The biggest losses for the Spartans’ defense are in the back seven. Linebackers Greg Jones and Eric Gordon led the team in tackles and were the unquestioned leaders of a very good defense. With both now gone, only junior linebacker Chris Norman returns. Max Bullough will take over in the middle and, like, Jones, he’s a big, physical linebacker at 6-3 and 240 pounds. In the secondary, Johnny Adams returns after an excellent sophomore season in which he picked off three passes. Trenton Robinson returns as free safety and is the team’s leading returning tackler.
All these young men, on offense and defense, will be called to continue what last year’s team started. Winning a share of the Big Ten title is great, but if Michigan State can’t build on 2010, the program’s credibility will take a hit. It’s time for Sparty to remain in the top tier of the Big Ten. The attempt to bolster a positive reputation begins against Youngstown State.
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