Keying In On The Keys To The Season

Keying In On The Keys To The Season

Crowley Sullivan

Keying In On The Keys To The Season

Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News provides us with his five keys to the season for the 2018 season.  What does SpartansWire think of the analysis?

Contact @crowleysullivan

We’ve all celebrated the anniversary of our nation declaring its independence from the tyrannical rule of the oppressive Redcoats.

But before we completely turn the page on our show of gratitude and appreciation for our forefathers’ insistence on breaking free from the iron-fisted oppression forced on our colonial idealists by the Brits, let’s be sure to ask a simple question:

What do we think the body odor quotient was like in the hall when these men were putting the finishing touches on the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, 1776 in the sweltering heat of Philadelphia?

Once the 4th of July is in the rearview mirror, there are several certainties:

  • The Chicago White Sox are A) getting closer to losing their 100th game of the season and B) are even further away from the World Series they won ten or twelve years ago that absolutely nobody remembers, let alone recognizes as being meaningful since not even major sports media outlets include the White Sox in standard chronicling of championship metrics.

  • Out of habit, Notre Dame message board posters offer this type of post with August coming into view: “I hear Charlie is looking much better than he did last season – a guy I know on the staff (can’t name him within this forum) says he’s been eating yogurt every morning and has shed at least four pounds…”

  • Absolutely nothing interesting has happened regarding the football program or the entire institution at Purdue.

  • The people from the University of Tennessee are certain that their football program matters because their university is south of the Mason Dixon Line and because Tee Martin showed up at my Michigan State Rose Bowl Tailgate Party on January 1st, 2014 in the Stimmlers’ backyard that overlooked the Rose Bowl for reasons that remain unknown to all.

  • Those Texas A&M students that dress up in the faux military uniforms that nobody will ever be able to explain to me are readying themselves so that they can do those yell cheers and other stuff that they they do that, apparently, gives Texas A&M people a sense of pride.  Are they part of the Border Patrol?  Domestic Terrorism Defense Team?  Year round Halloween costumes?

And, of course, pundits are zeroing in on the keys to the season for Michigan State.

Our pal from The Detroit News, Matt Carboneau, has broken down a few areas that he thinks are the keys to success for the Spartans.

The defensive front.

The offensive line.

A potential breakout season for LJ Scott.

Is there proper/enough depth at quarterback?

Strength in the secondary.

These are the five areas Charboneau itemizes.

We won’t be snarky here and point out that SpartansWire has already provided in depth analysis and commentary on each of these areas for the Spartans – but, we’ll offer a thought or two on each now that the Babbingtons and the Haverfords are bragging on Martha’s Vineyard about how good Duke is going to be this season.

THE DEFENSIVE FRONT

One of the best kept secrets in all of college football in 2017 was Michigan State’s defensive brick wall.

The Spartans finished the season as the #2 team in the nation in rushing defense.

Raequan Williams, Mike Panasiuk, Naquan Jones, Gerald Owens, Jacob Panasiuk, Dillon Alexander, Brandon Randle, and Kenny Willekes are all going to destroy and bludgeon all opposing football players.

End of story.

THE OFFENSIVE LINE

A very reliable source of mine shared with me (confidentially) that Mark Staten and Ken Mannie have locked all members of the Spartan offensive line in a 50’x65′ steel cage this summer that is outfitted with nothing but very large slats of iron, gigantic (loose) tree stumps, monkey bars, humongous tires used by industrial fork lift vehicles, piles of barbed wire, buckets of wrenches and hammers, 25 wooden barrels filled with lard, one-inch thick sleeping pads, a 1985-era ghetto blaster with only one tape for playing music (Def Leopard’s “Hysteria”), and a handful of bowling balls.

Meals are administered six times a day via Hooters waitresses that the Spartans are not allowed to touch or speak with.

The meals consist of large piles of lightly broiled slabs of meat and tall glasses of lukewarm tomato juice.

The offensive line is going to be properly primed for the purposes of ravaging all opposing defenders so that LJ Scott scores touchdowns regularly and with ease.

A POTENTIAL BREAKOUT SEASON FOR LJ SCOTT

See “THE OFFENSIVE LINE” blurb.

Also, it’s worth noting that I’ve been told by a very reliable source (confidentially) that Brad Salem and Coach D have made LJ Scott carry a male porcupine that has hot wing sauce injected into its buttocks every few hours and LJ is checked on randomly throughout every day to make sure he has the porcupine safely and snugly tucked under his arm (he’s required to rotate the porcupine from arm to arm every ninety minutes and he’s also required to sleep with the porcupine tucked under the arm of his own choosing every night).

IS THERE ENOUGH DEPTH AT QUARTERBACK?

The question is rendered moot due to the fact that after Brian Lewerke fully recovered from his broken leg after the 2016 season, he was visited by Jor-El in the night, just prior to the 2017 season.

Jor-El presented Lewerke with a chalice filled with a potion that Lewerke consumed along with a bowl of gruel that both contained nutrients from Monjubi.

The Monjubian potion and gruel have strengthened Lewerke’s bone structure and immune system and he will never again sustain injury.

The potion also has a unique effect on a human’s ability to learn up to 25 different languages in the span of a month.

Dave Warner is rumored to be working with Lewerke on a plan to confuse defenses that features Lewerke hurling insults in various languages at linebackers preparing to blitz in key situations.

Having said all of this, the only thing keeping Rocky Lombardi from becoming America’s Most Favorite College Football Player is Brian Lewerke.

STRENGTH IN THE SECONDARY

It exists.

It exists in the same way that confusion exists regarding George Clooney’s surprising inability to save Darfur.

Okay.

Now that you have SpartansWire’s collection of thoughts regarding Matt Charboneau’s collection of thoughts on the keys to the upcoming season, here is the collection of Matt Charboneau’s thoughts, in full…

Five keys for Michigan State football’s 2018 season

Michigan State’s seven-win improvement last fall helped quickly put a miserable 2016 in the rearview mirror for the Spartans.

But with preseason camp quickly approaching, taking that next step in 2018 will be the focus in East Lansing. The Spartans return a wealth of starters on both sides of the ball as 23 players have starting experience, including 11 on offense, nine on defense and three specialists.

Needless to say, optimism is high for a core group that won 10 games in 2017, including a blowout victory over Washington State in the Holiday Bowl while picking up Big Ten East wins over Michigan and Penn State.

The schedule is favorable to make a run at winning the division and getting back to the Big Ten title game for the first time since 2015 as Michigan State gets Michigan and Ohio State at home and avoids playing West Division favorite Wisconsin.

The season kicks off Aug. 31 against Utah State, but until then, here’s a look at five keys to the Spartans’ season:

Defensive front

The Spartans are set on the interior as junior tackles Mike Panasiuk and Raequan Williams return after helping Michigan State become the No. 2 rushing defense in the nation in 2017, allowing 95.3 yards a game. They’ll be spelled by sophomore Naquan Jones and fifth-year senior Gerald Owens in the middle as the foursome will rotate regularly.

The biggest question for the defensive line remains on the edge. The Spartans took a huge leap from just 11 sacks in 2016 to 28 last season, However, that number still needs to increase if MSU expects to make life difficult for opposing offenses. Junior Kenny Willekes had a breakout season with seven sacks but finding another end will be crucial. Sophomore Jacub Panasiuk should get plenty of opportunity while senior Dillon Alexander will be in the mix. Also keep an eye on sophomore Brandon Randle, who has split time at end and outside linebacker.

Offensive line

The Spartans return plenty of experience up front offensively except for one spot, which also happens to be one of the most important. With center Brian Allen off to the NFL, who moves into that spot becomes a hot topic. Odds are that sophomore Matt Allen, Brian’s brother, will get the nod but others like senior David Beedle and junior Tyler Higby can work there, as well.

Beedle has plenty of versatility and will likely start at left guard with sophomore Kevin Jarvis on the right side. Junior Cole Chewins is back at left tackle with sophomore Luke Campbell on the right side. Add in sophomore Jordan Reid, who can play multiple spots, and the Spartans are strong up front. But getting that quick development at center will be vital to the group’s overall success.

LJ Scott surprised some when he announced minutes after the Holiday Bowl victory that he was returning for this senior season, but there’s no doubt it immediately solidified the Spartans’ ground attack heading into 2018. Scott has led Michigan State in rushing in each of his first three seasons. However, he has yet to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark, getting closes in 2016 when he ran for 994 yards.

But with the lack of experience behind him – only sophomore Connor Heyward has carried the ball in a game besides Scott – this could be the season Scott goes from solid back to superstar back. There’s no doubt Mark Dantonio and his staff will work in young players like Elijah Collins and La’Darius Jefferson, but Scott will get the bulk of the carries, giving him the opportunity to stand out.

If he puts up numbers like Le’Veon Bell did in 2012 as the primary back, Scott could establish himself as one of the best runners in the country.

Quarterback depth

There is no question who will be the quarterback for the Spartans as Brian Lewerke enters his junior season in position to push Penn State’s Trace McSorley as the top QB in the Big Ten. After all, he threw for more than 2,500 yards and ran for more than 500 last season while piling up 3,352 total yards, second-most in program history.

The question is: How do things stack up behind Lewerke? He started all 13 games last season but did suffer a broken leg in 2016, meaning developing a suitable backup could be important. The problem for MSU is it doesn’t have another QB on the roster who has taken a snap. Redshirt freshman Rocky Lombardi will likely be the No. 2 with incoming freshman Theo Day at No. 3. Getting one or both some work early in non-conference play is something to keep an eye on.

Loaded back end

The Spartans were one of the top defenses in the nation in 2017, ranking seventh in total defense. Much of that is thanks to the linebackers and secondary. Junior Joe Bachie anchors the middle of the linebacking corps with senior Andrew Dowell on one side and plenty of options on the other, including sophomore Antjuan Simmons, junior Tyriq Thompson and sophomore Brandon Randle. Also, senior safety Grayson Miller played linebacker in the spring.

Things are even more stacked in the back end as sophomore Josiah Scott and junior Justin Layne will likely start at corner with junior David Dowell and senior Khari Willis at safety. The depth after that is outstanding as senior Tyson Smith, junior Josh Butler and freshman Kalon Gervin will see time at corner, while safety has plenty of options, including sophomore Dominique Long, senior Matt Morrissey, sophomore Tre Person and freshman Xavier Henderson.

The biggest question here might be finding a spot for everyone, though that’s a good problem for the Spartans to have.

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/mattcharboneau

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