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I have exchanged questions and answers with Chris Vannini of the excellent Michigan State site "The Only Colors." My answers to his questions are here. His answers to my questions are below.
1. I'm sure that MSU fans didn't expect to lose two home games in September, considering that MSU was a darkhorse BCS title contender in some quarters. What do you see as the major problems with the offense?
It has really been a lot of things. MSU put up more than 400 yards against Boise and turned the ball over three times, but things seemed OK. But then the offense line was destroyed by Notre Dame and the receivers started dropping everything. The line struggled again against Ohio State, and the receivers have dropped around 18 passes over the last three games. MSU has lost two offensive linemen for the year over the past three weeks, so the trenches have been a mess again. On the bright side, we know what Le'Veon Bell can do when he gets enough blocking, and Andrew Maxwell is coming off perhaps his best game. If the receivers can just hold on to the ball, things should be OK in the long run.
2. We know all about Le'Veon Bell. Who else on the offensive side of the ball should concern IU?
The receivers have been a mess, but tight end Dion Sims has been Maxwell's favorite target. He's big, he's athletic and he's a matchup nightmare for people. Unfortunately, if you shut him down, you shut down the passing offense. That's been the case over the past few weeks. As for those receivers, Keith Mumphrey has had a few drops, but has separated himself as the No. 1 receivers because he catches enough and makes good plays after the catch.
3. The defense has been very good, again. Who have been the keys to success on that side of the ball?
It hasn't been the big names coming into the season. Will Gholston, Denicos Allen and Johnny Adams have all had average to below average years, but they unit has been great as a whole. Marcus Rush at the other defensive end has had a good year, and middle linebacker Max Bullough has done a great job controlling things and making plays. They're no longer No. 1 in the conference in passing or rushing defense (No. 2 in both), but they're No. 1 in total defense by 50 yards per game, and this comes while MSU has trailed for more than 120 of the last 180 game minutes. They're always playing in high-pressure situations knowing that going down two scores might be the end of the game.
4. Generally, how do you feel about the state of the program under Mark Dantonio? Obviously, he is a huge improvement over your prior two coaches. Do you think he will be able to keep MSU at the top of the conference consistently?
MSU is in a great position right now and moving forward. Dantonio came in and set the identity right away. It took a few years to weed out the problems, but he's built the program into what he wanted. They haven't made a Rose Bowl yet, but they sure were close each of the last two years (Would have made 2010 under 2009 rules; would have made 2011 under 2010 rules). Moving forward, 2013 is shaping up to be a fantastic season, as long as not too many juniors leave early for the NFL. Virtually the entire offense is set to return and much of the defense will, and the schedule replaces Ohio State and Wisconsin with Purdue and Illinois. Dantonio has built up depth in the program by consistently finding underrated talent in recruiting. MSU had six players drafted this spring, and five of them were rated three stars or fewer. Yeah, Michigan and Ohio State are on the warpath on the recruiting trail, but MSU rarely beats them out for players anyway. Dantonio wanted to build a program in the mold of Wisconsin and Iowa, bringing consistency to a program that hadn't had any in more than 40 years. They're not going to win the Big Ten every year, but the days of following up an eight-win season with four wins are over. And that's all MSU wanted when they hired him.