A college sports blog from The Oakland Press, dedicated to covering Michigan and Michigan State athletics as well as former Oakland County athletes at other schools.
Thursday, September 29, 2011
Toussaint should be No. 1 back for Michigan
Sooner or later, Michigan will have one feature back getting the bulk of its carries in Al Borges offense. For now, the field of candidates has been narrowed from four down to two -- Fitzgerald Toussaint and Vincent Smith. Toussaint should be the guy that emerges as No. 1. He's rushed for 193 yards on 35 carries (5.5 YPC) and three touchdowns. But moreso, he's been consistent. His closest competitor, Smith, has shown more big-play ability, but his 8.8 yards per carry average is misleading. He's been hit or miss. The Wolverines already have a player like that in Denard Robinson, who's fourth in the nation in rushing. They need somebody who can be reliable and take some strain off of Robinson. Toussaint, a sophomore, also has a higher ceiling than any other back on Michigan's roster -- possibly with the exception of freshman Thomas Rawls, who just doesn't seem ready for consistent game action yet. While Both Toussaint and Smith should get plenty of carries Saturday in what's sure to be a rout of Minnesota, going forward Toussaint should be the guy taking the pounding in Big Ten play.
Kill will be back on sidelines Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill, who's battled seizures and other health issues the last three weeks, was released from the Mayo Clinic and said he will be back coaching the Gophers (1-3) Saturday against Michigan. "I've done pretty good. I've already survived cancer," said Kill in an interview with the Associated Press. "I've survived about three losses right now. I'm still out here and practicing and trying to coach them up. I still said too many cuss words today, so I'd say I'm still in it pretty good. But our focus needs to be on the University of Michigan and on getting our players better." Minnesota is coming off a 37-24 loss to North Dakota State, arguably the lowest point in program history.
Trip to Ohio State will be a homecoming for several Spartans
B.J. Cunningham remembers the frustration from the last time Michigan State played in Columbus. It wasn't only with the Spartans' loss that day, but also the fact that he had to watch the game from his friends house in Ohio. The Westernville, Ohio native was a redshirt freshman with the Spartans and did not travel with the team to road games. But he returned home to watch that game. "I remember just sitting with my friends back home and seeing that atmosphere, what that stadium was like and all that on TV and just wished I was out there playing," Cunningham said after the Spartans' win over CMU Saturday. "I'm looking forward to going down there, no doubt. We know what it's going to be like. It's Ohio State. We just have got to come out ready." Cunningham isn't the only Spartan looking to take a shot at their home state's team. In total, the Spartans have 25 Ohio natives on their roster. Two other Ohioans looking to make an impact for MSU are on the Spartans' defense in linebacker Marcus Rush and defensive tackle Jerel Worthy. Worthy is the incumbent leader of the MSU defense, filling in for the departed Greg Jones, and Rush has exploded on the scene recently as a pass-rushing linebacker. "Marcus has been great. He's a tough kid and has that blue-collar Cincinnati attitude that we like. We've got to go back there and get a few more guys just like him," MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said. Rush was not recruited by Ohio State coming out of high school and has made it clear it left a chip on his shoulder. Helping MSU beat Ohio State Saturday would be a nice "I told you so" to the state school of Ohio.
He's too good to sit. Yet, he's not good enough at what he needs to be for the program to move forward. Denard Robinson is a playmaker. He's not a quarterback. I've said before that Michigan can win with Robinson as its QB, but it has to let Robinson have full reign. If the Wolverines are going to win this way, the way they won Saturday 28-7 over San Diego State, then Brady Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges have to be all in and turn over control of the offense to Robinson and his athleticism. Stand back, watch and hope nobody can catch him. Robinson rushed for a career-high 200 yards and three touchdowns to help lead Michigan over SDSU and to a 4-0 start. However, he completed just 8 of 17 passes and threw two interceptions. Against the Aztects, U-M survived those passing numbers and stalled drives. Against the upper echelon of the Big Ten, they likely will not. Robinson, who consistently picks up more yardage on the ground than through the air, should be a run first, run second quarterback. Or, he should be at a different position. One or the other. It'd better for the long-term growth of the program under Hoke to have a pro style QB and start implementing a pro style offense. It'd better for the NFL future of Robinson to start playing as a slot receiver, running back and kick returner. Yet, it's better for Michigan right now to just let him run loose. Robinson's like a great hitter on a National League team that can't play a single position in the field. If he were a senior, the answer would be simple: just ride it out for this year and start fresh next year. But Robinson is a junior and I just don't see him becoming a better pocket passer. Considering there's no proof that backup Devin Gardner is capable of being a strong drop back quarterback either, I think Hoke's best bet is to worry about his pro style offense in 2013. This is Robinson's team right now, and the Michigan coaching staff has to turn it over to him, not try to find a gray area in the middle. My column for Sunday's Oakland Press on Michigan State
Spartans' season could fall through the cracks of their offensive line
If the statement, "you're only as strong as your weakest link" holds any truth, than Michigan State's football season could be hanging on by a thread. The Spartans offensive line, returning just two starters from last year, was a concern coming into the season. Now it's a nightmare. More injuries and a lack of improvement by incoming lineman have placed a gaping hole in front of MSU quarterback Kirk Cousins. If MSU ever considered running the veer, or even Rich Rodriguez's spread option, now would be the time. No, seriously. Here's what MSU's starting offensive line will be for Saturday's game against Central Michigan.
LT - Dan France (6-foot-6, 315 lbs, sophomore): Two career starts. LG - Joel Foreman (6-foot-4, 315 lbs, fifth year senior): The only remaining lineman with experience because of the injury to Blake Treadwell, Foreman must play flawless, which he didn't do last week against Notre Dame. C - Travis Jackson (6-foot-3, 275 lbs, RS freshman): Zero career starts. RG - Chris McDonald (6-foot-5, 300 lbs, junior): 12 career starts as an injury replacement. RT - Fou Fonoti (6-foot-4, 300 lbs, junior): Zero career starts. Fonoti was a good junior college player, but he's yet to prove he can be effective in the Big Ten.
Expect the Chippewas to send the house at Cousins on Saturday. When Big Ten play begins, expect that strategy to become a major problem for the Spartans.
Dantonio, Hoke to face familiar opponents Saturday
Saturday, both Mark Dantonio and Brady Hoke will be going up against an opposing coach who used to work for them. And neither is happy about it. Hoke admitted that he wished his former team San Diego State, now coached by his former defensive coordinator Rocky Long, wasn't on Michigan's schedule — and even asked U-M athletic director David Brandon about trying to buy the game out. The Aztecs will bring a 3-0 record into the Big House Saturday as they look to give their former coach his first setback at his new job. Dantonio and the Spartans are set to take on Central Michigan, now coached by Dan Enos — who worked as an assistant under Dantonio at both Cincinnati and Michigan State. Dantonio said he and Enos are still close friends, and for that reason isn't looking forward to facing him this weekend. Hoke and Long also said they still communicate on a regular basis, but not about football. Nonetheless, the four coaching colleagues will all be looking to one-up each other on Saturday. In my opinion, SDSU will be by far the toughest team Michigan has faced this season (yes, that includes Notre Dame). Michigan, with a brand new No. 22 ranking, could be on upset alert Saturday. As for MSU, the Chippewas aren't what they were two years ago when they came into Spartan Stadium and stole a win. Central has fallen fast and far since Enos took over the program from former coach Butch Jones, so the Spartans shouldn't have too much trouble. That being said, MSU's offensive line is terrible. Expect Enos, who could be coaching for his job in some respects, to try and bring a lot of pressure. Picks: Michigan State 28, CMU 7. Michigan 34, San Diego State 31.
Michigan is indeed 2-0, but how good this Wolverine team is, or isn't, has yet to be determined. Michigan routed Western Michigan in Week 1 -- a game that could have gone differently if not for an untimely turnover by the Broncos at the goal line. Then came the back and fourth pillow fight between the Wolverines and Notre Dame last week. Michigan has another opportunity to win today vs. EMU, here's five keys to getting it done:
1. Run the ball (with the running backs) -- Michigan's running backs combined for just 10 yards rushing last week in a game in which the Wolverines scored 35 points. That has to change. Earlier in the spring, both head coach Brady Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges said they want one feature back to take over the lead rushing role. Three weeks into the season it's still Denard Robinson and nobody else running for Michigan.
2. Keep points off the board -- This game is an opportunity for Michigan to restore some faith in its defense. EMU is not a good offensive team and Michigan should be able to hold them to a maximum of 14 points and win going away.
3. Execute on special teams -- The Wolverines weakest link this season has been on special teams. While obviously Hoke is hoping they won't have to kick too many field goals today, they do need to sure things up in the return and coverage aspects. Stan Kwan had a better special teams approach than Michigan has had so far this season.
4. Remember Appalachian State (and Toledo) -- Michigan should win this game. But that by no means guarantees that it will. Underdog teams have come into the big house and win before, see Appalachian State and Toledo. Miami of Ohio almost did it a few years back. EMU is 2-0 (albeit only by defeating Howard and Alabama State) and coach Ron English would love nothing more than to get a win in the place where he felt he deserved the head job after Lloyd Carr stepped down.
5. Turnover margin -- The only reason Michigan didn't get crushed in the turnover battle last week was because Notre Dame may be the most careless team in the country when it comes to taking care of the football. Denard Robinson did not look good passing out of the pocket last week. This game could be an opportunity for him to work on improving that. No picks today would be a nice boost for his confidence.
Mateen Cleaves will be remembered as all-time MSU great
Mateen Cleaves was inducted into the Michigan State University Athletics Hall of Fame today. It was without doubt a well-deserved honor. To me, Cleaves -- who's No. 12 jersey already hangs from the rafters at the Breslin Center -- is the best college point guard I've ever seen and is a top 5 college point guard of all time. His success didn't translate to the NBA, but what he did during his time in East Lansing is something rarely seen in college athletics. He willed the Spartans to that national championship in 2000 over Florida. Sure, Mo Peterson had a monster game and was clutch down the stretch, but Cleaves limping up and down the court on a severely injured ankle put his teammates in the frame of mind that they couldn't let themselves lose that game. "He demanded excellence from others, while always putting the team ahead of himself," said MSU coach Tom Izzo -- who's son's middle name is Mateen -- in a statement released by the university. Cleaves spot on top of my list as the best college floor general's that I've ever seen (keep in mind I wasn't around for Jerry West, Magic Johnson or Isiah Thomas) is a distant one. The list is below and is based on what they accomplished in college, not the NBA.
1. Mateen Cleaves, MSU 2. Jayson Williams, Duke 3. Jameer Nelson, St. John's 4. Raymond Felton, North Carolina 5. Steve Blake, Maryland
If you want an eyesore, look at MSU's new nike Pro Combat jerseys
Apparently Nike got Michigan State confused with Baylor -- or at least it looks that way based on the new Nike Pro Combat Spartan jerseys that were unveiled this morning. The jerseys, which can be seen on www.msuspartans.com, are dark green, with black pants and gold numbers and gold helmets with a green stripe. GOLD? The early rumors were that the jerseys were going to be a black and green combo, which I think had a chance, but these uniforms say anything but MSU. The Spartans may wear these for the Michigan game -- can't wait to here the crowd chanting Go Green!, Go White! ... and Gold! Nike recently released Pro Combat uniforms for Georgia which were also heavily criticized, but these new MSU unis may trump even the Under Armor Maryland uniforms as the most hideous of the new era.
New MSU Nike Pro Combat jerseys will be revealed tomorrow
The new Nike Pro Combat jerseys for Michigan State football will be unveiled tomorrow at 9 a.m. on the Nike Facebook page. The jerseys can also be seen on NikeFootball.com and MSUSpartans.com. The Nike series of jerseys, which has made uniforms for Oregon, Virginia Tech, Arizona State and Georgia, among others, in recent years has created quite a buzz around the MSU program. A false report briefly was posted online earlier this month by a local media outlet after it was given false information and a phony image. But tomorrow, the suspense will end. The jerseys are rumored to be black.
A win is win, that statement doesn't change, but it was evident the Spartan fan base was less than enthused with Michigan State's 28-6 victory of Youngstown State last week. Coach Mark Dantonio shrugged off any concern, but he did say he'd like an opportunity to some of the backups in for more game reps. Here's five things to watch for as the Spartans take on Florida Atlantic today:
1. Looking for a quick start: Michigan State's offense spent a lot of time on the sidelines in the first half last week as the Penguins worked the clock with a deliberate running attack. Look for MSU to try and come out swinging and try to get some points on the board early.
2. Getting Maxwell in the game: In an ideal situation, the Spartans would like to build a comfortable enough lead by halftime to get backup quarterback Andrew Maxwell some quality time under center. The coaching staff is high on Maxwell and would like to get him more in-game experience.
3. Somebody sack somebody: Michigan State's defensive line didn't live up to the billing in Week 1. Jerel Worthy and William Gholston has plenty of promise, but need to produce some results on the field and get into a rhythm before the big games start (as in next week against Notre Dame).
4. Hill's day in the light: This could be the game were freshman running back Nick Hill gets plenty of carries and an opportunity to show off exactly how elusive he can be.
5. Needing another target: B.J. Cunningham tied the all-time reception record for the Spartans last week with his 9 catch game. Yet, Cousins would love another consistent target to emerge. The Spartans do have depth at the WR position, but nobody's stepped up as a for sure No. 2 threat.
Notes: DE Tyler Hoover (Novi) and WR Bennie Fowler are two Oakland County players not dressed for today's game, both are battling injuries... The Situation from Jersey Shore is reportedly going to be in attendance today, I'm sure the freshman dorms at MSU will be filled with excitement.
Wolverines keep it safe with 2011-2012 hoops schedule, but could see trouble in Maui
Looking to build on the momentum accomplished with a strong finish to last season and a gutsy performance against Duke in the NCAA Tournament, the Michigan Wolverines have a fairly favorable non-conference schedule which could potentially boost their early-season ranking. Outside of the Maui Invitational, Michigan's toughest non-conference game is a matchup with Oakland University at the Palace of Auburn Hills Dec. 10. Yet, considering Michigan typically saves its best game of the season for whenever OU is on the schedule, I'd expect the Wolverines to continue their trend of shooting 60-plus percent and coasting to a lopsided win over the Golden Grizzlies. Maui could be the problem early on for UM. Michigan opens the Maui Invitational against Memphis, a young but increasingly talented and athletic team. After that, Michigan will get a rematch with one of its NCAA Tournament foes from a year ago. The Wolverines could face Tennessee, which would be ideal considering the Vols are in flux and have a depleting talent pool. On the other hand, the Wolverines could also see Duke, which in that case... good luck. Michigan plays an unimpressive Virginia team (on the road however) in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge but otherwise has smooth sailings into the Big Ten season. I'd expect an inflated win total for the Wolverines this season.
Tom Izzo has done it again. Only this time, he may have pushed further than ever before. Michigan State announced its 2011-2012 men's basketball schedule Wednesday -- and it's a duzy. The Spartans begin the season in San Diego, playing on an air craft carrier against North Carolina, in the first-ever Carrier Classic. Four days later, MSU takes on Duke in Madison Square Garden. MSU if the first team to open a season with back-to-back games against North Carolina and Duke since 1976. "With the one-two punch of North Carolina and Duke right out of the gates, it sets the tone for what, on paper, could prove to be one of our most difficult schedules ever," MSU coach Tom Izzo said in a statement released by the university. "Everyone said last year's schedule was one of our toughest, and yet, this year we are playing more teams that appeared in the NCAA Tournament and postseason last year." Michigan State plays 11 teams that appeared in the NCAA Tournament last season and two others that played in the NIT. Other difficult non-conference games include a road trip to Central Washington to take on Gonzaga and a home game against Florida State in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Michigan State also makes its first trip to Ypsilanti to take on Eastern Michigan since 1987. Why Izzo agreed to play a game at Eastern Michigan is beyond me, and having to play UNC and Duke back-to-back is an unfortunate timeframe, but both those games will be great exposure. What will be interesting is to see how the Spartans fair with the adjusted conference schedule now that Nebraska has joined the Big Ten. MSU will play seven league opponents twice, while facing Northwestern, Illinois, Iowa and Penn State only once. Another oddity to the Spartans' schedule is the Auto Owners Insurance Spartan Invitation -- a five-team, four-game round robin tournament with the likes of Texas Southern, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Univeristy of Arkansas-Little Rock. Not sure what the Spartans gain out of that, other than a few sponsorship dollars. MSU also added another Summit League school, other than Oakland Univeristy, to its schedule as it will host UMKC for a non-conference game.
After hearing the response on Twitter and other online formats from Michigan State fans after the Spartans' season opener against Youngstown State, you'd think MSU lost to the Penguins as opposed to the 28-6 victory that took place in East Lansing Friday night. Sure, fans wanted something more along the lines of a 42-7 thumping, but the concern over a three-touchdown victory is unwarranted.
No, Michigan State's defense wasn't great, but Youngstown State scored its only touchdown as a result of a fumble recovery. Without that fumble, it's a shutout. The offense wasn't as terrible as described, either. Kirk Cousins completed 18 of 22 passes for 222 yards. Lead running back Edwin Baker ran for 91 yards and backup running back Le'Veon Bell scored two touchdowns. Receiver B.J. Cunningham caught nine passes for 130 yards and a score.
As far as season openers go, things could have been much worse. Ask Lloyd Carr and Chad Henne.
The Spartans have one more tune-up next week against Florida Atlantic before traveling to South Bend to take on Notre Dame. There's no reason to think MSU will have a letdown year just yet.
Ross Maghielse is a sports writer for The Oakland Press. He has covered area high school sports for the paper since 2008 and began covering Big Ten and other college sports in 2011. Ross grew up in Rockford, Mich., about 15 minutes north of Grand Rapids and attended Oakland University, where he worked as sports editor of The Oakland Post and graduated with a Bachelor's degree in journalism. In addition to reporting for The OP's daily paper and website, Ross also works as the play-by-play broadcaster for our online web streaming of high school sports, which can be heard live on MIPrepZone.com. Follow him on Twitter @Maghielse.