For a Michigan State perspective on tomorrow's game, Chris Vannini from the MSU blog The Only Colors answered a few questions for us.
My answers to Chris's questions can be found here.
I'd give Maxwell a B+ so far, although the perception is probably more around a C. He threw three interceptions in the opener against Boise State (one was a receiver drop, one was throwing while being hit and the other was straight missing an open guy), but his numbers otherwise have been good. He's first in the Big Ten in yards-per-attempt among pro-style quarterbacks and MSU is near the top of the conference in most passing stats. The receivers have been more of an issue than the quarterbacks. Then again, he has faced a completely retooled D in Boise State and a MAC defense in Central Michigan. Obviously we're not going to crown him the top QB in the conference, but he has the potential, based on spurts we've seen this year.
2. Last week, the Notre Dame offensive line struggled against a strong Purdue defensive line. Give us a scouting report on the Spartan defensive line. What are their strengths and weaknesses?
The weakness of the line is the middle, although it has been better than expected through two games. MSU lost its starting DTs from last year, including NFL Draft pick Jerel Worthy. MSU hasn't gotten the pass rush from that spot like it had with Worthy, but they've been good against the run. On the outside, Will Gholston had a monster game against CMU after being fairly nonexistent against Boise State. MSU only has one sack on the season, but it appears to be a factor of quarterbacks getting rid of the ball early (as evidenced by terrible opposing passing numbers and QBs consistently ending up on their backs). Against dual-threat quarterbacks, they do a good job of containing while still rushing, so that will be something to watch with Everett Golson.
3. Despite being known as a power rushing offense, Michigan State was 11th in the Big Ten in rushing offense in 2011. Against Notre Dame last year, the offensive line really struggled. However, the Spartans are off to a good start running the ball this season. What (if anything) has changed and do you expect this trend to continue?
What changed is that not much changed. By that, I mean that four starters returned on an offensive line that was pretty good in the final few games of last season. MSU didn't run the ball particularly well against CMU, but the Chippewas were stacking the box and forcing MSU pass (which they did). Against Boise State, the line made enough holes and Bell has great vision to find them. He's also great at breaking tackles, not only because of his size, but his movement make it difficult to get a clean shot on him. (Remember Manti Te'o's missed tackle in 2010?). Getting him going is the most important part of the offense. When MSU runs the ball well, they almost always win.
4. Is this the year Michigan State finally makes it back to the Rose Bowl? What's the biggest reason why? What's the biggest reason they could fall short?
Earlier this week, I wrote that this has to be the year MSU goes to the Rose Bowl. Plain and simple. The Big Ten is a mess, as we saw last week. MSU is the only team that feels comfortable on both sides of the ball. The defense is one of the best in the country, and the offense has shown a good balance between running and passing. Barring injury or another Big Ten team suddenly fixing its major struggles on offense or defense, no excuses for MSU not winning the conference in 2012.
5. Any predictions for the game?
I think Notre Dame's offense is going to have trouble getting anything going, but the Irish defensive line will have success with its pass rush. This is going to be a low-scoring affair, but as long as MSU's offense doesn't make a major mistake (like having a pick-six in each of the first two games), I've got the Spartans winning this one. MSU's D has allowed six points on the year, and both field goals came on Boise State drives that started inside MSU's 30-yard line. Honestly, I think Tommy Rees would give ND a better shot than Golson. If MSU can get the ball moving on the ground, that will help them attack a depleted ND secondary. I'm going 17-14 for MSU.
Thanks again to Chris for taking the time to answer my questions! Check out The Only Colors for more coverage of tomorrow's game.