The word of the day is vivisection, as in what Texas Tech did to MSU's pass defense last night. Sadly, I expected Texas Tech to throw for a huge amount of yardage (460 yards on 54 attempts). The only way that MSU had a chance yesterday is if the offense could adjust to the loss of top wide receivers Mark Dell and B.J. Cunningham to suspension, who accounted for about 30% of MSU's total passing yards on the season. Thanks to a wide-open playbook the Spartans kept it close, but they were beat by a familiar demon - the inability to stop the short pass when it matters most.
The doubts about motivation for Texas Tech were all answered quickly when the Red Raiders stopped Michigan State's opening drive and countered with a nine play touchdown drive based on precision passing that was vintage Tech. The lack of pass defense on this drive was stunning unless you saw the Penn State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Wisconsin, or Central Michigan games. Then it just seemed logical.
From there out, a Texas Tech pounding seemed inevitable. However, the defense was able to stop a few drives before the end zone, and the offense - well, let's break down all the offense awesomeness:
- Edwin Baker's 46 yard TD run. Remember when Larry Caper was the better freshman running back? I think Baker finally crushed all the questions of whether his senior year knee injury followed him to college with that dash through Tech's defense.
- Keshawn Martin's 48 yard TD reception from Kirk Cousins. Kirk Cousins received the most pressure he has all year from Tech's front four (defensive player of the game: Brandon Sharpe. If there was a way to Kirk Cousins, he found it. If there wasn't a way, he made one). At some times he crumbled (2 INTs), but this was the best pass he threw all day - a spiral that found Keshawn Martin between defensive backs in stride for the touchdown. By the way, have I mentioned that Keshawn Martin is awesome? Get ready to hear more of that in this article and the next two years.
- Keith Nichol's TD draw. Admit it, you grimaced when you saw Nichol behind center; I know I did. This was one time Dantonio got the QB switch right though, as Nichol took the snap and went in untouched.
- Aaron Bates' first down pass. If the Tech defense saw Bates come in for the fake FG, they should've known something was up, as Bates was a high school QB, and Swenson at 5'9" needs a phone book to see over the line. Not the prettiest pass, but effective.
- Keshawn Martin's TD pass to Blair White. Say it with me: WILDCAT! It turns out that Dantonio was right to play QB roulette this season, but he was doing so with the wrong player. I can't wait to see Martin behind center for 5-10 plays a game next season.
So how did Michigan State lose this game? Because teams have to play offense and defense in football. Tricky thing, that. The lack of defense came to a head with 2:42 left in the game and Tech up 34-31 on MSU's 18. Texas Tech calls timeout on a 4th and 4. The best hope State had of getting the ball back was to have the corners or linebackers jam the receivers at the line for the first time all season and upset Tech's rhythm. That didn't happen, and Steven Sheffield found Detron Lewis for a five yard gain and the game.
Overall, I feel conflicted about the game and next season. On one hand, it was encouraging to see the offense score 31 points without two starters. On the other hand, it was thoroughly depressing to see the defense unwilling to change its scheme. To be fair, Tech's skewered many teams with their passing attack in the past few years, but it would've been nice to see a couple wrinkles. It makes me wonder how one coordinator (Don Treadwell on offense) can be so inventive and willing to adapt, while another (Pat Narduzzi on defense) is so stuck in his ways.
After a night's sleep, I'm not as upset with the game as I was at midnight. Although the problems on defense seem too many to fix before September, I hope they can be cured. As a Michigan State football fan, sometimes hope's the only thing you have.
P.S. Thanks to everyone who participated in the game thread last night, especially you Iowa and Penn State fans. Feel free to come back for basketb...uh, see you in October!
P.P.S A special thanks goes out to the Texas Tech fans who've commented here the last month, your intelligence and good countenance did not go unnoticed. I know you're going through some tough times right now, but remember this: no matter how many boneheaded things your administration does, you had 84 young men (I know you'll be dead in the cold, cold ground before recognizing Adam James as a Red Raider) giving all they had. Never forget that.