Michigan State at Arizona State - GAME PREDICTION

Michigan State at Arizona State - GAME PREDICTION

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Michigan State at Arizona State - GAME PREDICTION

Arizona State has weapons. Michigan State came out of the gates looking a bit wobbly. Both teams are ready for what is going to be a fun, intense, exciting duel in the desert this Saturday night. What’s going to happen?

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LET’S GET A FEW THINGS ESTABLISHED OUT OF THE GATE

N’Keal Harry might be Plaxico Burress.

Eno Benjamin might be Le’Veon Bell.

Manny Wilkins might be Kirk Cousins, Connor Cook, Dave Yarema, and Bobby McCallister all wrapped up into one mega-quarterback.

The Sun Devil defensive front that came up with TEN sacks against the UTSA Roadrunners in the season opener last week might be a combination of the George Perles Steel Curtain (Google it, under-40-ers), The U’s Warren Sapp-led gang of bandits, and the 1985 St Lambert’s front that led to me being hauled off the field and placed in an ambulance that headed for Evanston Hospital.

All of those things might be the case.

But – and with all due respect – Herm Edwards is Herm Edwards.

That’s not a pro or a con.

It’s just a fact.

And here’s another fact – Michigan State didn’t all of a sudden become a crummy team after last season’s 10-3 season that featured a batch of wins over Top 20 teams.

Is it going to be toasty warm for the Spartans when they take the field in the desert?

Yes.

Michigan State’s staff will have bottles of water for the players on the sideline.

LET’S RE-ESTABLISH THE FACT THAT THESE DUDES ARE YOUNG – AND THAT THEIR YOUTH IS A PLUS THIS WEEK

All of us have a tendency to forget that the monsters who are out there playing the games that we watch are 18, 19, 20, and 21 years old.

We all spend so much time and energy breaking down the nuances of the way a down lineman might use four fingers on the turf rather than his entire set of fingers (and maybe even his thumb).

We spend a lot of time analyzing how a block wasn’t made with the precise percentage of the blocker’s body positioned exactly where it needs to be positioned when that blocker is pulling from the left side of the line to the right side of the line on a 3rd and 4 running play.

We vex over the angles at which receivers complete their routes since the precision needs to be executed at least a 76% success rate in order for the pass to be completed, the first down to be gained, and the world to continue to rotate on its proper axis.

What about this part of the whole thing –

The facts that these dudes are18, 19, 20, and 21 year olds?

No matter how much they’re properly told and coached up and motivated, they probably couldn’t find Utah State on a map, hadn’t ever heard of Jordan Love, won’t ever remember Dax Raymond’s name, and probably slept pretty well the night before the season opener against the Aggies.

This isn’t to suggest that Michigan State didn’t have focus and didn’t treat the Utah State challenge with attention and respect.

The Spartans did.

They won the game.

What it is meant to suggest, however, is that when the 18, 19, 20, and 21 year olds are getting ready to go play against a team that is understood to have studs who can fly and run and catch and throw and the game is on the road and the opponent just destroyed the UTSA Roadrunners 49-7 and the 18, 19, 20, and 21 year olds from East Lansing just eeked out a win over a team that might be okay but, truthfully, isn’t exactly Ohio State, it might stand to reason to think that there might be more focus, more respect for the challenge at hand, and more of a commitment to making sure fingers and thumbs and hands are in the right places, that routes are precise, that blocks are made, and that an intense level of concentration and even a nasty approach is going to be required to be 2-0 when Sunday comes around.

WHO ARE THE SUN DEVILS AND WHAT CAN THEY DO?

Manny Wilkins is a 6’3″, 200-pound 5th year senior who threw for 500 more yards than Brian Lewerke did last season.

Wilkins completed 63% of his passes, had 20 touchdowns, and only eight interceptions on the year in 2017.

Last week against the UTSA Roadrunners, Wilkins had 237 yards on a 16 for 24 night and four touchdowns.

He performed in the way Brian Lewerke probably envisioned himself performing against Utah State.

More on what this ball game is going to be like for Brian Lewerke in a moment.

Manny Wilkins has a receiver in 6’4″, 218 pound junior N’Keal Harry that will be playing in the NFL a year from now.

Harry had 82 catches for 1,142 yards and eight touchdowns as a sophomore last season and kicked off his 2018 year with 140 yards on six catches last week against UTSA.

This duo – Manny to N’Keal – is the real deal.

And while the Sun Devils are without the guys who provided Arizona State with all of its offensive production on the ground last season, 5’10” true freshman Eno Benjamin busted out last week with a strong showing by gaining 131 yards on 16 carries with a touchdown.

I’ve seen the word “explosive” used in descriptions of the Arizona State offense this week.

That’s a fair word.

But one thing that I haven’t seen is any real references to Arizona State using an up tempo approach on offense.

Utah State didn’t out-skill the Michigan State defense.

Credit Aggie head coach Matt Wells for recognizing that he had a talent deficit and needed to apply a scheme that would go a long way toward mitigating that talent deficit.

That’s what the up tempo stuff did.

In the season opener, Michigan State wasn’t ready for the bang bang bang bang approach that Love executed perfectly all night long.

Wilkins – in addition to be a stud of a gunslinger – is also elusive and crafty in the way he can escape a collapsing pocket and turn a busted play into a winner.

He’s not Brian Lewerke or Drew Stanton in this regard (he gained 282 yards on the ground in 2017) and it’ll surprise me if he breaks anything long that becomes a difference maker Saturday night.

But Manny is gonna make a few plays with his feet and his moxie that will frustrate the Spartans a few times Saturday night.

Kyle Williams – the smaller but very effective other part of the Sun Devil receiving corps – is a 5’10”, 180 pound junior who is dangerous and reliable.  He’s gonna make plays that also frustrate the Spartans.

Williams is often described as “giving the Devils another dimension.”

 

But here’s something that might not seem practical at face value but becomes practical when we think back to the fact that the Spartans are 18, 19, 20, and 21 year old dudes –

N’Keal Harry, Kyle Williams, Manny Wilkins – these guys look and appear to be like guys who might be on a video game at some point (maybe they already are – I don’t play those video games).

These guys have the attention and respect of the Michigan State defense.

CAN THE SPARTANS MAKE AL DAVIS PROUD?

The fact that Arizona State is not likely to apply the same sort of up tempo approach all night long gives the Spartans a chance to play defense in a way that fits with their more standard approach and allows them to be a bit more comfortable.

That all might (should) allow the Spartans to sort of say, “Bring it on.”

Having said all of that, here’s something that must happen, particularly when considering that Manny Wilkins is a 5th year senior who can slip away and create problems with his feet:

Michigan State must get to Wilkins and put him on the ground.

Like we’ve said before, the Spartans need to make Al Davis proud –

If Michigan State can create an interior push and cause problems for Manny by either hurrying him or simply putting him down, the Spartans will have a great shot at returning to East Lansing 2-0.

Kenny Willekes is going to will his way to two sacks.

Jacub Panasiuk – time to get cranking, big guy.

Manny and N’Keal are going to hook up for some biggies – there sort of isn’t a whole lot that can be done to totally shut these guys down.

But, can the Spartans limit their “explosiveness” and keep them from having a party out there on the field for four hours?

I think so.

CAN THE SPARTANS SHUT DOWN THE DEVILS ON THE GROUND?

If the Sun Devil offensive line combines with Eno Benjamin to lead Benjamin to having a night with more than 125 yards rushing and a couple of touchdowns, I’ll sun bathe naked in the middle of whatever the central part of Arizona State’s concrete campus is next Thursday afternoon from 1p to 3:30p in whatever the time zone is that Tempe is adhering to right now which is nearly impossible to keep track of since Arizona has all sorts of weird ways of applying the whole time zone thing and being its own, individual state within our broader union.

WHAT ABOUT MSU’S OFFENSE AGAINST ASU’S DEFENSE?

As we noted here –

https://spartanswire.com/2018/09/04/arizona-state-notes-and-thoughts-on-devils-defense/

… Arizona State does not have a defense that should make the Michigan State offense afraid to run out on to the field Saturday night.

Let’s not take anything for granted – the Sun Devils have players.

And, perhaps the best thing that could have happened for Michigan State in last week’s Sun Devil season opener is for Arizona State to have had TEN SACKS against UTSA.

Might that have an impact on the way the 18, 19, 20, and 21 year old Spartans focus, work on technique, and commit to assignment football in the offensive trenches Saturday night?

I think it might.

As we noted here –

https://spartanswire.com/2018/09/05/spartan-backs-can-become-the-weapon-everyones-expecting/

…LJ Scott and Connor Heyward, despite all of the justified vexing following the opener against Utah State, didn’t have all that lousy of an evening if we take a look at the stats.

Yes, Michigan State should have dominated the game on the ground and didn’t.

And there is reason for concern about whether or not this Michigan State offensive line can establish itself as a group that can take over a game.

Those TEN SACKS from the Sun Devils last week combined with the noise and the blah blah blah about how there wasn’t as much “power” from the Spartan line in Week 1 might be just the combination needed to get this unit of 18, 19, 20, and 21 year olds to come out firing on all cylinders Saturday night.

And as we noted here –

https://spartanswire.com/2018/09/03/lewerke-and-receivers-are-in-sync-ready-for-big-season/

… Brian Lewerke and his own group of receiving studs are not only in sync, they’re on the verge of becoming prolific.

HOMECOMING FOR BRIAN LEWERKE

Let’s take a moment to think about Brian Lewerke in this ball game.

First – how many times when the Sun Devils swarmed the UTSA Roadrunner quarterback could the Roadrunner quarterback have escaped the pocket and turned at least two or three of those sacks into, say, ten- or fifteen- or even twenty-yard runs like Lewerke does on a regular basis?

Second – does anyone think that Brian Lewerke may be more focused, more dialed in, more determined, more prepared for this game than, perhaps, any other game he’s ever played in throughout his entire life?

How many members of his Phoenix family are liable to be in the stands Saturday night?  Fifty?  A hundred?

How many people that he’s known and played with and had fun with and been friends with throughout his life growing up in Arizona are going to be in the stands Saturday night?  Two hundred?  Five hundred?

If Lewerke has an awkward fumble due to trying to flip an “attempted pass” at some point in this game, I’ll extend my potential naked sun bathing period on ASU’s concrete campus next Thursday by two hours.

WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN?

This is a tall task for these Spartans.

There isn’t anything easy for any college football team that has to head into Tempe to face Arizona State.

Don’t discount the fact that there might be as many as 20,000 Spartans in attendance Saturday night.  Those Spartans aren’t going to catch any passes or do any of the blocking – but for the 18, 19, 20, and 21 year old players dressed in Green & White on the field, this certainly doesn’t hurt.

There are going to be moments when Manny Wilkins and N’Keal Harry are going to remind Spartans of Chad Henne and Braylon Edwards.

There are going to be moments when LJ Scott is stuffed and Michigan State isn’t able to convert on 3rd and 2.

But, as we noted here –

https://spartanswire.com/2018/09/04/3-predictions-for-arizona-state-game/

… There are improvements that are going to be made and will be very noticeable to the non-sun bathing naked eye following the disappointing sloppiness against Utah State.

And…..

The 2018 Michigan State season is going to kick into high gear when Brian Lewerke and his offensive line team up with LJ and Heyward and pound away midway through the fourth quarter to take full control of a close game.

A 26-23 game becomes a 33-23 game thanks to a clock-gobbling, Pound Green Pound-feeling, hike-up-your-big-boy-green-pants-looking, gut-punching drive midway through the fourth quarter.

And, just for good measure, Michigan State tacks another one after the Spartans have gobbled up the Sun Devils’ soul for a late evening meal.

Michigan State shows folks that all is just fine in East Lansing, that the season opener was just that – a season opener – and that the teams that appear on the Spartans’ schedule are not going to be able to have daydreams about this year’s Spartans being “less than” but, rather, are going to have their hands full.

Michigan State – 40

Arizona State – 23

 

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