Scouting Report: Big Ten assistants on Michigan State

The coaches for Michigan State and Ohio State are furiously game-planning for the Big Ten championship game. I asked several Big Ten coordinators who have prepared for and stared down the Spartans and Buckeyes for their off-the-record views and ideas on how to attack each team. Here’s what they said.


I think MSU needs to get even more boring than they are on offense. They need to line up with as big of personnel as they can and run the football 50 times with Jeremy Langford. Right now, the OSU defense is young and built for speed more so than it is for power. Make Ryan Shazier take on the Iso and Power. Make those guys get off blocks and take on double-teams all day long. Run it, run it, run it, let the clock run and wear ‘em out. One of those powers is going to break. The Spartans have to shorten the game, which will keep the ball away from Ohio State’s high-powered offense.

[ MORE: Scouting Report: B1G assistants on Ohio State ]

What tends to happen, when you think you have a good defense, you call plays a little differently. You can take fewer risks. Everyone in East Lansing knows they have an outstanding defense. Therefore, if you can find a way to score 10, 12, 14 points, you have an excellent chance to win. So now, the quarterback and play-caller are looking to win. You don’t need to score 40 or 50 points. So those players and play-caller are doing a good job of just managing the game, taking what the defense gives and taking advantage of short fields when it’s created by the defense.

Listen to the Michigan State’s Max Bullough, Darqueze Dennard and Connor Cook: 

On defense, Pat Narduzzi likes to take a lot of chances. He has a lot of sophisticated zone and man blitzes. It will be interesting to see if he’s willing to take those chances against Braxton Miller. If you take those chances, you tend to leave the middle of the field open. Braxton is going to make some people miss and he’ll take some plays that should be three-yard gains and turn them into 15- or 50-yard gains. Your ability to have people in the middle of the field who can tackle him in open space is very important. MSU is a salty defense up front. That will help.

[ MORE: Read all of our Big Ten title game coverage ]

I think Michigan State will be able to play some man-to-man on the edges on Ohio State. That would allow them to assign eight or nine guys to Hyde or Miller to help contain the run game. It’s a big advantage if you feel good about your corners and are able to do that.

They put their D-backs on islands. I thought their secondary was really good. Play-action and getting some type of double-moves on the safeties is key because they are on an island and have a lot field to cover. Up front, they are going to stack the box.

I don’t care what formation you are in, those Spartans safeties are going to be low. There are eight-10 guys within 10-yards to the ball. The safeties play low and tight to the box. With their corners being in man, you have to stress the flats if you are OSU. It’s extremely hard to run against them. They are well-coached, good with their eyes and are where they’re supposed to be. It’s the toughest defense we have played against the last two years.

Are there weaknesses in the Michigan State defense? Yes, they are in the scheme but they are good at understanding what their weaknesses are. They get a lot of the same stuff from everyone because everyone tries to do the same stuff vs. them. The weaknesses in their schemes is that they put their DBs on an island. But they are good at recovering. Up front, the line is good. Max Bullough gets them in a lot of good checks. He’s a great player.

Listen to Coach Urban Meyer and Coach Mark Dantonio: 

You have to be able to use the quarterback in the run game vs. MSU. Miller gives you an extra man in the run game. You have to use his speed to keep them honest, and then hit some play-action passes off of it. That will isolate the safeties and corners and beat them over the top.

Watch special teams. Mark Dantonio always has been a big fake guy. He has fakes galore and he’s not afraid to use them. I think it helped them win the Iowa game. Their punter is good. But guys who are good punters tend to take a little longer to punt. Why? As a punter, you like to see your work, see that ball sky rocket, spiral and turn over. If you have to get a punt off in two seconds or less, it can cramp your style. The punter has to be able to see what is coming from a rush standpoint. They have to be able to see if the rush is coming with their peripheral vision. That can be disruptive to a big-legged punter.

About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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Your Opinion?
Show Comments (5 Comments)
Kyle on 12/3/2013 @ 6:51pm EDT Said:

The other scouting report was against the buckeyes. This scouting report was supposed to be against the Spartans. Sure looks biased to me towards MSU. First paragraph is about pounding the football down osu’s throat. That’s ok, keep hating, cause it only fuels osu’s defense and offense.

Doug on 12/3/2013 @ 8:02pm EDT Said:

get over it Kyle, ESPN has been all about OSU, about time MSU got some coverage.

MarkD on 12/4/2013 @ 12:10am EDT Said:

Wait a minute

I thought UM was playing OSU in the title game. Why else would BTN programming focus so much on UM-OSU for the last 3 weeks.

I’m confused. I come home from work today, turn on BTN and watch Tiebreaker for the 18th day in a row, followed by another replay of the Arena football game that took place over in the Outhouse last Saturday and then cap it off with the Big Ten Journey that featured another loss by the team that leads the country in “M”oral Victor(ie)s and you’re telling me that UM is not even playing in the BT Championship game.
Sorry Bucks, it was the UM loss to Iowa that took place the week before that showed on tonights episode of the Journey.
Looks like BTN is even behind the times on showing the most recent Journey version where of course the new version focuses on OSU-UM (what a great rivalry) with rare footage of Taylor Lewan actually blocking someone cleanly and talking about what a great place Michigan is. Never heard that before on BTN.

Well so much for any airtime on the Championship game tonight. Wait .. What’s this… They are actually talking about this meaningless game this Saturday during the 10PM hour. Who knows maybe they can brush off some of the cobwebs back in the backroom and see if there are some MSU-OSU game films from years past that they can show at 3AM.
No, how stupid of me to think BTN figured out it is MSU not Michigan that is in their 2nd BT championship game in 3 years, have already won 40 games and counting over the last 4 years, only BT team to win both bowl games the last 2 years, pummeled their little sisters from AA in 5 of the last 6 years and feature the top defense in the country in almost every major defensive category.
Silly me.

Can’t wait to watch some more UM-OSU shows tomorrow night to build up the hype for the big Championship game Saturday. Who knows, maybe BTN will change the order of the UM-OSU shows just to mix things up. Stay tuned … staff on 12/4/2013 @ 11:44am EDT Said:

    MarkD, hope you saw the live Michigan State press conference on Tuesday morning. It was Mark Dantonio’s full session with the press, available on TV and BTN2Go. Plenty more title game coverage ahead all week – details here. Enjoy the game!

John on 12/4/2013 @ 10:39am EDT Said:

Good read, not sure I understand how it was a negative on tOSU.

I think one thing that will matter a lot is how far Miller goes for the extra yard. If he tries some of the stuff we saw against Indiana, then he may not finish the game. Feel free to run and hurdle, but you are getting hit. Just look at how Gardner was treated.