Michigan State vs. Northern Colorado Preview

 

Your MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS vs. the NORTHERN COLORADO BEARS
SPARTAN STADIUM, EAST LANSING, MICHIGAN
12:00 PM (ET), BIG TEN NETWORK (Trouble finding the game on TV? click here)
ONLINE RADIO FEED: WJR [pause] DEE-troit!
WEATHER: 58 DEGREES, PARTLY CLOUDY,  10% CHANCE OF RAIN

Before starting the preview, an aside on FCS opponents - I don't like playing them any more than you probably do.  With the addition of the 12th regular season game however, the need for BCS teams to play seven home games in a season is ever more pressing.  These bargains must be made to stay relevant in an ever-more competitive Big Ten (Northwestern's winning eight games a year consistently now!).  Enough negativity, onto a truncated game preview.

The University of Northern Colorado in picturesque Greeley  (I assume it's picturesque because it's in Colorado) has had a decent season so far, going 2-1 with a 54-0 blowout win against Adams State, a 35-21 victory over Idaho State, and a 50-47 four-overtime loss to Weber State.  Despite the respectable record against fellow FCS schools, the Bears are 169th in the Sagarin ratings, 51st best among the FCS.   After the jump, a look at what Northern Colorado will attempt on offense and defense.
WHEN THE SPARTANS ARE ON OFFENSE...

They will need to hold onto the ball, especially the running backs.  Northern Colorado currently leads the FCS in turnover margin, averaging 3.33 turnovers a game.  Most of those turnovers have been fumbles, though (eight total fumbles, all recovered by the Bears, compared to three interceptions), and given how randomly the ball can bounce for some fumbles -- replay Michael Floyd's fumble last week for an illustration -- that average is not sustainable.  Nevertheless, Edwin Baker, LeVeon Bell, and Larry Caper will need to be surehanded.  MSU's averaged a fumble per game this year (one each from Bell, Keshawn Martin, and Charlie Gantt - all lost), but didn't turn the ball over on the ground last week.  Look for Baker to surpass Larry Caper's team leading rushing yards in 2009; he only needs 79 more.

Turnovers aside, Northern Colorado's defense has been pretty decent in the FCS so far.  The Bears are twelfth in the FCS in pass efficiency defense (96.08), 14th in total defense (275.3 yards per game), and 26th in rushing defense (114.0 yards per game).  Expect offensive coordinator (now with head coaching duties!) Don Treadwell to run the ball down the field, giving equal time to Baker, Caper, and Bell.   Hopefully Andrew Maxwell will replace Kirk Cousins at some point for a few snaps, but if the Spartans attempt more than 30 passes on Saturday, I'll be amazed.

WHEN THE SPARTANS ARE ON DEFENSE...

They'll see a balanced attack; the Bears' rushing and passing yards are nearly equal (203.3 yards per game through the air, 201.7 yards per game on the ground).  The Spartans will also need to put some effort into forcing turnovers, since Northern Colorado's lost none of their four fumbles this year, and junior quarterback Dylan Orms has thrown only one interception this year. That means Northern Colorado has turned the ball over once in three games.  A regression to the mean is inevitable, all we can hope is that it happens tomorrow.

Orms has performed decently for a first year starter.  His completion percentage is a bit low (56.3%), but his yards per attempt (8.06) is pretty good.  Orms hasn't thrown it a lot in the past few games -- he has 71 attempts on the season, and that includes a four OT game.   Half of his passing yards have been to Jace Davis, a sophomore wide receiver who also has caught four of the six passing touchdowns.  The rushing offense is split between Orms (34 attempts, 26.7 yards per game) and two running backs, Andre Harris and Jhamele Robinson.  Harris has been the more effective running back of the two this season, averaging 91.7 yards per game to Robinson's 64.7 on three less attempts. 

As for MSU's defense, don't expect anything fancy.  The same schemes that have been in place for the past three weeks will shut down the ground attack effectively, leading to a few short pass completions that will have you shaking your head.  I wouldn't be that concerned about a few completions, however; out of all the teams the Spartans have faced so far, the Bears' offensive scheme is the one least likely to exploit MSU's weaknesses on defense.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

First off, get well soon Coach Dantonio.  Treadwell might need a couple series to get used to head coaching duties, but given how well he's run the offense in East Lansing the past few years, he should adapt quickly.  Northern Colorado has played well against their FCS opponents this season, but I think that's partly a function of their borderline supernatural luck with turnovers.  I don't think they'll be as successful in recovering the ball this game, which will lead to a decisive Spartan victory.  I am a bit concerned about a possible letdown after the drama of last week, but I think Dantonio's brush with death will focus the team.

PREDICTION: MICHIGAN STATE 45, NORTHERN COLORADO 10
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