Michigan State vs. Florida Atlantic: Keys to the Game and Prediction
Welcome back Spartan fans, are you ready for another weekend of top-level football?
Well, we sure hope so because we have a dandy for you in East Lansing.
The Michigan State Spartans will look to get win number two in 2011 against the Owls of Florida Atlantic.
The two squads squared off in 2010 in Ford Field, where FAU was the designated home team. It made little difference, as the Spartans cruised to a victory.
This game may seem like a automatic win on paper, but with MSU's slow start against Youngstown State last Friday, and FAU grabbing early big-time competition against the Florida Gators, anything can happen.
One team is looking for their second win, the other is trying to avoid their second loss of the season. In order for either team to think about walking away with a win, they will need to capitalize on these three keys, or otherwise their season could be in a serious rut.
Michigan State Key #1
Improve the run defense...a lot
On occasion last Friday Michigan State made Youngstown State running back Jamaine Cook look like Reggie Bush, as he juked and broke his way out of countless tackles.
Every run play seemed to end in at least a four-person Spartan pile, leading to the realization that MSU needs to focus on open-field tackling.
It wasn't just the run game that killed them, it was also the bubble screens that Youngstown threw that earned them a good amount of yards. The linebackers and secondary fell into the blocking schemes far more than Coach Dantonio would have preferred, and again every screen play usually included a Spartan whiffing on a hit.
The Spartans "D" couldn't have made it any more obvious that they will miss Greg Jones and Eric Gordon this season against Youngstown.
In order to gear up for the rigorous Big Ten schedule, they will need to buckle down against FAU to not only help them against the big boys, but also to get the "W" on Friday.
Michigan State Key #2
Spread the love to other receivers
If you have tickets for this Saturday's game, odds are you will be seeing Michigan State history as senior B.J. Cunningham needs only one more reception to become the all-time receptions leader for MSU.
Cunningham tied legend Matt Trannon at 148 catches last Friday after snagging nine balls in the win over the Penguins.
You have the feeling Florida Atlantic has taken note of this. Half of Cousins' completions were to Cunningham and the next guy in line, Larry Caper, had three grabs.
It shouldn't be a surprise to see FAU give B.J. Cunningham a lot of extra attention and double team him, so it will be important for Cousins to heave the ball to other options. Spreading the ball to other options will keep the Owls on their toes and set Cunningham up for that big time play if need be.
Michigan State Key #3
Buckle down on third down
Last week, Youngstown went 8-15 on third down conversions, but ask any Spartan fan about it and they will tell you that it felt like 13-15.
Obviously third downs prolong a drive and keep the ball in the offense's hands, and that is exactly why MSU has such a low scoring game. The time of possession battle was very lopsided, and not in the way the Spartans would have liked. It was a reflection of the poor third down defense.
The fact that eight third downs were converted means that there was a fresh set of downs eight times, a stat that iced Sparty's offense and kept the weary defense on the field. If Michigan State can bear down on big third down plays than the game will be easier for the fast-paced offense to win.
Florida Atlantic Key #1
Like Youngstown, control the tempo of the game
This was a key last week for Youngstown, and they executed it to near-perfection. Playing in front of a big Spartan Stadium crowd is never easy, and the best way to mute them is to drag out possessions.
Taking time off the play clock on multiple plays will not only hush the crowd, but it will keep MSU's offense off the field for a longer amount of time. This helped Youngstown keep the game in check going in to halftime, and if the Owls can keep the tempo to their liking than they should have no problem giving themselves a shot at victory.
Florida Atlantic Key #2
Throw a lot of short routes and bubble screens
If there is anything David can do to take down Goliath, its playing small ball. This can work for Florida Atlantic for three reasons:
One reason is because the Owls do not have an established running game. This statement can be made after their game against Florida where running backs Alfred Morris and Damian Fortner averaged a combined 1.4 YPC on 21 attempts.
Florida Atlantic's offensive line, as one can see with the rushing yards, isn't the greatest in the world. Dumping the ball off quickly will relieve quarterback Graham Wilbert of any pressure he could get from his faulty line while standing in the pocket for long routes to develop.
As we all saw last Friday, Michigan State is very vulnerable to screen passes, and should the Owls exploit that, the hosts could be in for a long afternoon.
Florida Atlantic Key #3
Tighten up the run defense
Just like their opponent, FAU has some flaws in their run defense.
Against Florida's run game, the Owls surrendered a whopping 197 yards on 33 carries. The dynamic duo of Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey averaged 8.1 yards per touch on 23 combined carries. If the Gators can unleash a run offense like that, imagine what the three-headed monster of Baker, Caper, and Bell could do against the Owls.
Bad things, very bad things.
Game prediction: Michigan State takes care of Florida Atlantic, 45-14
Michigan State will be feeling the backlash from their "disappointing" win in some critics' eyes, and will be looking to light up the scoreboard early.
The Spartans' early urgency will lead them to the end zone on their first drive of the game as B.J. Cunningham records his record-breaking 149th reception along the way.
After the Owls execute a somewhat promising drive, the Spartans get the ball and run deep in to Owl territory to set up for a field goal, giving Michigan State the early lead and momentum. A portion of that mojo will be taken back immediately when the Owls score on an unexpected deep ball early in their drive. The offense will not get up and running until their final possession of the half where they will use a two minute offense to march down the field and score before heading in to the locker rooms.
Breaking out of halftime Michigan State will bury the dagger deeper and force a turnover early in Florida Atlantic's drive and return it for a touchdown. The fired up Owls will then claw back to make this a game and score on a long dragged-out drive, slowing the tempo down and icing the Michigan State offense.
The forth quarter will show no scoring from the Owls but rather a "that's all she wrote" offensive attack from Sparty, giving them their second win of the season before heading to South Bend.