Q&A: Inside Spartan Territory with ‘The Little Brother Blog’
By Ozone Staff
In memory of Mike Hart.
That’s how The Little Brother Blog would describe its humble beginnings. What once was meant as an insult from the former Michigan running back became the inspiration for Mike Wilson’s website, which covers Michigan State athletics for the Bloguin network.
We recently caught up with Mike for a good old fashion Q&A about this weekend’s marquee matchup between the Buckeyes of Ohio State and the Spartans of East Lansing. You can also check out our side of the Q&A over on their site, as we hopefully provided some insight into Urban Meyer’s squad heading into conference play.
Ozone: Le’Veon Bell was a guy we saw a little bit of last year as one of the Spartans’ three backs. When did he go from being “one of the guys” to one of the premier workhorse backs in the country?
WILSON: The flashes have been there for the previous two years, but splitting carries with Edwin Baker kept him from the entire spotlight. About midseason last year is when Bell emerged and cemented himself as the best running back on the MSU roster – and now he is showing the size, moves, speed and agility to be one of the best there is nationally. Not to mention, he also blocks well and catches the ball well.
Really, all it took was Baker going pro and leaving Bell as the lone starter for him to be able to show everything he brings to the game.
Ozone: It’s been no secret that QB Andrew Maxwell has struggled to replace Kirk Cousins so far this season. What are his biggest strengths and weaknesses at this point, and how much do you expect them to throw the ball against OSU?
WILSON: Maxwell sure has struggled so far, but he has shown some promising things – particularly arm strength. Unfortunately, that also is part of his biggest weakness as he often throws the ball with too much velocity.
Given that the Buckeyes have struggled against the pass this year and have given up a lot of yards, MSU should try to exploit that – but can they is the question. Maxwell and the receivers have not moved down field in big chunks well yet, so expect MSU to run a lot early and then go to the air. The Spartans went away from the run too often against Notre Dame, and shouldn’t make that mistake again.
Ozone: The Spartans completely swarmed Ohio State’s offense last year. It was one of the worst performances we’ve ever seen. How does this MSU defense compare without Jerel Worthy?
WILSON: It is a very similar defense and is particularly stout against the run. The difference is in the number of sacks and turnovers this year’s team has forced so far. The Spartans rank last in the Big Ten with just three sacks and have a -1 turnover margin.
Still, MSU currently has the top-ranked defense in the Big Ten, allowing just 233.5 yards per game – less than 70 rushing per game. It still is a tough defense that really gets after the ball. Middle linebacker Max Bullough has been particularly impressive so far this season and seems to always be around the ball.
Ozone: Teams have been using quick passes to the sideline and screen plays to negate Ohio State’s defensive line this year. Would you expect MSU to add some of that to its gameplan, or do they pretty much do what they always do?
WILSON: That is one area where MSU misses Keshawn Martin at wide receiver. He was the bubble screen guy and quick pass guy, but without him, MSU has been missing that go-to, big play-breaking guy. They have used Bennie Fowler in that role, and a little bit of true freshman Macgarrett Kings, too.
Personally, I would like to see more of those quick passes in the offense, but the wide receivers haven’t been blocking too well. Maybe this week that becomes a focus but, as I said previously, MSU will stick with the run and build off that – and plan to stick with the run through the game. Screen plays will be built off the run, so mostly, I expect MSU to do what it always does.
Ozone: These two teams appear to be pretty evenly matched on paper. In your mind, what is the biggest X-factor heading into this weekend’s game?
WILSON: Big plays. Michigan State needs more of them on offense, and needs to stop Ohio State from getting too many of them with Braxton Miller. The team that has more of them likely will win this game.
The Spartans have been hounded by drops this year – particularly the past two games – which has crippled drives and left plays on the field. They dropped seven against Notre Dame and then seven in the first half against Eastern Michigan, leaving the offense stagnant in both games. If the Spartans are to prevail, Maxwell and the wide receivers have to be able to move the ball down field effectively and the offensive line has to improve its pass blocking – as the Buckeyes, like anyone else, will key on stopping Bell.
*Thanks again to Mike Wilson for taking the time to chat with us about this weekend’s game. Hopefully you enjoyed his insight from inside Spartan territory as the Buckeyes hit the road for the first time this season.
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