Saturday Radar: Spartan Defense

There are two main national games to highlight today’s action: Michigan vs. Notre Dame and Michigan State vs. Oregon.  Both of those games have national implications, but the more important of the two looks to be the latter.  It for sure has the most intriguing match up:  the Spartan defense against the Duck offense.

Just in time for that match up, Grantland’s Chris Brown takes a deep look at Mark Dantonio and Pat Narduzzi’s defense.  In short, the Spartans run a simple 4-3 with press coverage on the corners and they spice things up with well-placed zone blitzes.  The gist is to play physical on the wide outs and allow no easy passes, yet play zone to protect against the vertical passing game employed by hurry up offenses nowadays.  As Brown surmises:

What’s more, they know that great D isn’t the function of a magical scheme; it’s about mastering fundamentals and playing with discipline and effort. The scheme is there merely to channel the players’ energy and help them play fast and without hesitation. Right now, no defense in college football does that better than Michigan State’s. The Spartans have the scheme to take on the Ducks. They just need to execute.

In some ways, I see this as a shot at Nick Saban.  He’s known as a defensive guru and along with that tag comes the idea that his defenses are extremely complicated.  Plus, his defenses have struggled occasionally against hurry-up teams (at least in the media’s eyes) and didn’t look so good in the opener against West Virginia.

Meanwhile, everyone’s on the lookout for the defensive answer to these new-fangled offenses and our lonely eyes are apparently now looking to Dantonio and Narduzzi for the answers.  


Oregon, we hardly knew ye and some BCS Scenarios

Stanford and Oregon played a great game last night.  Old guy football won again and, unless something extremely weird happens, the Ducks are out of the BCS chase.

Obviously, Florida State fans must be ecstatic with the results.  And Ohio State fans probably aren’t sad, either.

In terms of making it back to Pasadena, last night really didn’t create a ripple in ‘Bama’s pond.  IF Alabama takes care of business and wins out.  But could last night’s upset be good for the Tide if we manage to stumble somehow in these last games?


Let’s for a moment look at a bad case scenario*.  That would mean a loss for ‘Bama in one of the final games and that would mean next man up and FSU would slide to number one and Ohio State to two.  The Seminoles have Wake Forest, Syracuse, Idaho and Florida left in the regular season and probably a rematch against Miami in the ACC championship game.  I like their chances to win out, but the rematch against the ‘Canes could cause some trouble.  OSU has Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and then a likely Big 10 title game match up against Michigan State.  I really like the Spartans to knock off the Buckeyes in that one.

So, if the Buckeyes lose and the ‘Noles win out, what would that mean?  It could mean that Baylor – if they win out – moves up to number two.  That’s entirely possible, but it’s not a guarantee. I think there’s a great deal of mid major sentiment associated with Baylor and I think a won loss school like Alabama or Oregon would received a lot of support to play in the championship game instead of the Bears.  There’s also the fact that the Big 12 doesn’t have a championship game.  If either FSU or Ohio State losses (one, not both), then it’s possible the Tide could slip back into the picture.  In this case, an early loss for ‘Bama (like against LSU) would be better than a late loss (I think) and a good loss (overtime or close loss) would be better than an ugly loss (duh).

In any case, I vote for making it easy on ourselves and just winning out.

[* Bad case scenario isn’t the same as worst case scenario.  We’ve already lived through the worst case scenario in the 2010 Iron Bowl.]

Thanks, Cyclones

Following the Bama loss to LSU earlier this month, we needed the dominoes to fall just right in order to get back in the title chase.  A week ago, Oregon knocked off Stanford and last night the Iowa State Cyclones helped the cause with a thrilling 37-31 upset win over Oklahoma State in double overtime.  The Cyclones fought back from a 17 point deficit to shock the Pokes.

Those may be the only two dominoes we need to fall.  After this weekend, Bama will most likely be back at No. 2 in the BCS rankings.  A Southern Cal win over Oregon today wouldn’t hurt, though.

Pundits and fans act like these types of upsets can’t happen, but they do most every year.  To me, that also makes the win last week against Mississippi State even more impressive for the Tide.  The Tide was the double digit favorite, but coming off of an emotional overtime loss that, at the time, dashed their biggest goal of the season.  And playing the Bulldogs at home at night when you’re one of their biggest rivals is not easy.

So the prize is back in sight, though the road to it may be a little curvy.  Of course, Georgia Southern needs to be beaten, and it wouldn’t hurt to do it soundly.

Then there’s Auburn.  After what happened in Ames last night, it’s not a given that we pound Auburn into the sidewalk.  But we now have a little more motivation (as if last year wasn’t enough) to take care of business in a big way.  And Auburn has a little more motivation to spoil our special season.

I still think LSU will lose to Arkansas, but right now that’s probably not in our best interest.  The Tigers need to dispatch Ole Miss, Arkansas and then make it to Atlanta to play Georgia in the title game.  And it’s probably to our benefit if they beat the Bulldogs.  LSU going to Atlanta removes a major hurdle for us – i.e. having to beat a good Georgia team – but also makes us a bit more vulnerable in the BCS rankings.  If UGA beats LSU soundly, it would no doubt undermine our position, but we would still probably make the title game.

On the other hand, if LSU loses to the Hogs, we go to Atlanta and we control our own destiny.  If we beat the Bulldogs, we would be in the title game, but our opponent would come out of chaos.  The opponent would probably be Oregon, assuming they don’t lose again, but could also very well be LSU.  Arkansas, Oklahoma or Oklahoma State could also have a shot, depending on how strong they close out the season.

Anyway, the trip is back on track.  Let’s just worry about the next step and take care of the Eagles today.

Roll Tide!

LSU’s Adjusted Defensive Thinking

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal posted this interesting article concerning the LSU defense.

The gist is that when Oregon was added to the schedule in September 2010, Les Miles and co. began plotting defensive adjustments to stop the Ducks.  One obvious adjustment was to improve his team’s conditioning so they could keep up with the Ducks.  Another was to change part of the team’s strength and conditioning regimen – especially for his defensive line:

LSU’s four sophomore linemen—the ends Mingo and Sam Montgomery and defensive tackles Bennie Logan and Michael Brockers—were all red-shirted in 2009. This gave Tommy Moffitt, LSU’s strength and conditioning coach, the chance—as he put it—to “experiment” with them.

Moffitt stressed plyometric training. He had them flip tires and push sleds, varying the resistance based on what he called the coefficient of friction. He charted how much each player moved at every practice, down to the yard. He went online and searched for new exercises, he said, until his “eyeballs bled.”

One of Moffitt’s favorite metrics is relative strength—a measure of how much work a player can do per pound of body weight. Defensive backs, he said, should score in the upper fives, defensive ends in the low fives and defensive tackles in the mid fours. If a player has a too-small number, Moffitt said, it’s a sign that his “non-functional” mass is slowing him down.

Moffitt believes that if a football player can lose 10 pounds while improving his relative strength, he’ll be more efficient in games. “We’re not going to roll a bunch of skinny minis out there on the field; that’s not our goal,” he said. “But we want every ounce of weight to be force-generating.”

Brockers, the tackle, said it took some convincing for him to buy in. “I was afraid that I wouldn’t have the strength or size” to take on 320-pound offensive linemen, he said. But after trimming down from 315 pounds to 305, he said he feels just as strong as he did last season—in addition to having more speed and stamina.

To simulate the rapid pace at which Oregon snaps the ball, Miles came up with a novel idea at spring practice: He had the defense work against two offenses. As soon as one offense finished running a play, a fresh new one trotted out. Miles liked it so much he carried it over to the preseason. “I want you to imagine practicing against a hurry-up Oregon offense in the middle of the summer,” Montgomery said, “in Louisiana.”

The adjustments obviously worked, at least where Oregon is concerned.  The Tigers beat the Ducks 40-27 in the season opener for both.  With the trend toward fast-paced, hurry up offenses, I can’t say this is a bad strategy.  It will probably come in handy on October 22nd when LSU hosts Auburn and their 90-play-a-day offense.  The idea of 240-pound defensive ends probably has coaches like Nick Saban licking their chops, though.