Aug. 30, 2012
By Steve Grinczel, Online Columnist
EAST LANSING, Mich. - When former Purdue coach Joe Tiller introduced the spread passing attack to the Big Ten in 1997, he called it "basketball on grass."
Able to line up with four down linemen ranging in size from 6-foot-5 to 6-7 and three more checking in at 6-4, Michigan State appears to have the size to disrupt Boise State's fast-break version of the spread in Friday night's opener in Spartan Stadium.
Even some of the principles defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi has been emphasizing throughout preseason camp, such as getting a hand up to affect the downfield shot by the quarterback, would transfer to the hardcourt, where the Spartan defenders would make for an imposing quintet.
Micajah Reynolds, a 6-5, 318-pound tackle, would anchor the middle, end William Gholston (6-7, 278) is a natural power forward, tackle Tyler Hoover (6-7, 310) would be a so-called small forward and end Joel Heath (6-6, 266) could take the shooting guard spot.
It would make sense to put diminutive, relatively speaking, end Marcus Rush (6-2, 250) at point guard, with Shilique Calhoun (6-4, 240), James Kittredge (6-4, 272) or Damon Knox (6-4, 278) in the sixth-man role.
Because the Broncos have done such a good job in recent seasons of getting the ball out of the quarterback's hands so quickly after a short drop - and there's no reason to believe anything will change with new starter Joe Southwick - this is a game in which knocking down a pass may be as good as sacking the passer.
"You don't know if it's going to be a three-step (drop) game or not, so you're still trying to get a pass rush and use your hands to beat a guy, and then you've got to beat the ball," Narduzzi said. "We've talked a lot about ball-disruption and have had a lot of balls batted down in camp.
"That's a fine line. I don't want the D-line standing there waiting for a three-step and not getting any pass-rush, now he is holding onto the ball not in our favor, it's in their favor."
In recent seasons, Narduzzi's spread defense has lined up in certain situations with nearly all 11 players in a basketball-style two-point stance. Anticipation will be key.
"That goes with having a feel for when to get your hands up," Narduzzi said. "You'd like to plan everything like a five-step or seven step, feel the tempo, feel the protection and then get your hands up and try to match hands."
Gholston, who had two of his three career pass break-ups last season, shed light on one of the heavier-coached finer points of line play casual observers may take for granted or not even notice.
"If you are too far away to get a sack or swat the ball out of his hand, you're supposed to match hands," Gholston said. "That's something we've been working on since spring ball. The hand (the QB) has the ball in is the hand you put up because that way you don't lose any momentum and your body isn't out of shape.
"Once we use it in a game we'll know (how it works)."
The Spartans will have a lot on their mind with Boise State's multiple offense.
"They do more formations and (run) more different plays than probably anybody we've ever played," Narduzzi said. "If you can't play fast on defense, you've got problems."
What's Plan B if the defensive line can't slow down the Broncos' passing attack?
"Super Glue?" Narduzzi said. "If we can put some Super Glue on the ball, maybe he'll hold onto it a little longer and can't get it out."
GoG Notes & Quotes:
Le'Veon Bell is an established junior starter, but he'll be making his debut, in a manner of speaking, as MSU's featured back. He averaged just 13 carries per game last season, and had a career-high 20 in the win at Iowa.
Those are hardly workhorse numbers. In 2008, Javon Ringer averaged 30 carries per game and in 1985 Lorenzo White set a school record with 35 a game. As a senior in '87, White carried 30 times per game.
Offensive coordinator Dan Roushar wouldn't say how many times he expects Bell to carry to the load against Boise State. However, he broke in a big smile before saying, "a lot," while including Larry Caper and Nick Hill in the conversation.
"We'd like to get a lot with our tailbacks," Roushar said. "That goes with the ability to run the football. Looking at over a period of time, that's what we've concentrated on. We have to remain balanced and we have to use our resources on the outside.
"I'd love to come out of the game and feel like we got a number of rushing attempts. If we ran 70 plays and we had 35 rushing attempts, we'd see balance and feel like we ran the ball pretty well."
Said Bell, "As long as I do my job and keep running how I've been running, I think I should be fine. It isn't anything I haven't done before, but it has been a long time since I've been getting 20-25 carries a game - since high school. I think I'll get used to it and be able to handle it during the season.
"I just want to be a leader and carry this offense and do whatever I've got to do to make sure we win games, whether it's receiving the ball, running the ball or pass protection."