One in-state MAC school down, one more to go.
The Spartans downed Central Michigan 41-7 on Sept. 8, and now Eastern Michigan is up this weekend. This time, it is at Spartan Stadium and it is the final nonconference game for Michigan State.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, MSU has some kinks to work out after a tough home loss to Notre Dame.
And they need to be ironed out now, as the Spartans face Ohio State to open the Big Ten season next weekend in East Lansing.
Wide receivers and the offensive line will be the focus of Spartan fans this weekend — and play calling, for that matter.
So, here is what to look for against Eastern Michigan this Saturday:
1. Kings, Burbridge, Sims and Arnett
Notice a pattern from week-to-week? Predicting wide receiver play is becoming commonplace — because the questions are not answered yet. Until some answers are reached, expect to see more players getting chances.
These four — Macgarrett Kings, Aaron Burbridge, Andre Sims Jr and DeAnthony Arnett — are the wide receivers most able to make plays out of nothing. The use of the bubble screen is arguably the biggest change in the MSU offense from last year to this year (cough Keshawn Martin cough). They also are the four wide receiver that have been used the least of those vying for playing time.
But it will take a dedicated effort to good blocking by the rest of the wide receivers.
Something has to give and, really, it has to give this week. If the Spartans want any team to take them seriously on offense, big play threats are a must — many coaches and players mentioned the lack of explosive plays after last week’s loss to Notre Dame.
2. Offensive line play improving
The need to jel is so prevalent, and this is a game where it needs to start. Skyler Burkland only had 10 days of practice before the Notre Dame loss after returning from an injury, and the rust did show at points.
Ethan Ruhland also got his first career start last week at left guard, while Jack Allen and Blake Treadwell both saw time. Allen or Treadwell should cement themselves as the starter after this week. Just like at wide receiver, the offensive line has its question marks to answer — and a lot of room for improvement.
To state the obvious, Eastern Michigan’s defensive front is not Notre Dame’s, and this is a good time for the offense as a whole to work to mesh better and that starts in the trenches. Big plays come with good blocking.
Another facet of the line play improving should be a change in the play calling … Andrew Maxwell should be rolling out of the pocket more on designed rollouts. Dan Roushar, here’s looking at you for that one (God help us all).
3. A dual-threat quarterback
Alex Gillett is a nice, experienced quarterback for the Eagles entering his 31st career start.
He leads the team in rushing — and obviously passing — at just more than 50 yards per game. Sadly, from all observations, the EMU coaches run an offense that is not entirely suited to a QB such as Gillett and he is forced to throw a lot.
He is completing less than 50 percent of his passes this season, and has thrown six interceptions, so …
4. The MSU defense bringing the heat
The Spartans rank last in the Big Ten in sacks with just one. (!!!) Gillett, despite having okay numbers, has accounted for seven of EMU’s nine turnovers in three games.
Put the pressure on the EMU quarterback, get the ball back in the hands of the MSU offense — and give that offense more chances to work itself out. It’s a simple formula.
The defensive line should have its way and provide ample pressure on Gillett, and make way for the linebackers and cornerbacks to get to the quarterback, too.
Denicos Allen, time to get after it in a big way.
This is another CMU-type matchup in which the Spartans should have very little trouble moving the ball. Eastern Michigan allowed Purdue to move the ball all over them, and the Eagles allow more than 300 rushing yards per game (500 total). Le’Veon Bell will have early success and find the end zone before giving way to Larry Caper, Nick Hill and Jeremy Langford.
Maxwell will have another chance to really air it out and get timing down with his receivers before the Big Ten season hits.
MSU 38, EMU 6