Saturday, August 30, 2008

MSU at Cal game blog Aug. 30

Final thoughts

• Another tough pill for local football fans to swallow. First, the disappointment in Ann Arbor, then, on the opposite side of the country, the disappointment follows.

• First thing that stands out to me is Cal's sophomore running back Jahvid Best. You heard some whispers about him before and I've heard comparisons to Reggie Bush. At first, those sounded a little far-fetched but this guy is sweet, real sweet. He finished the game with 280 total yards: 113 rushing, 63 receiving and 104 returning.

• He's a big-play guy. He accounted for five plays of 20 yards or more and 11 plays of over 10 yards or more.

• Hoyer didn't play great but he didn't play bad, either -- whatever that means. 325 yards is a lot but they were playing from behind virtually the whole second half. His receivers also didn't help him out with the completion percentage.

• This was a real good game. I can't say that it surpassed my expectations because heading in, I was expecting this kind of game. It was high-scoring, competitive until the end and there were a lot of big plays.

Fourth quarter

• Cal starts its fourth drive of the second half at its own eight-yard line. I'm expecting and hoping for a Jahvid Best show -- he's one play away from being my favorite college player.

• The drive stalls but their punter is a freshman and he's sweet too. He downs one inside the MSU five-yard line. I've been meaning to say I like Cal's jerseys too. I might start a NCAA dynasty with Cal. Too bad I still play NCAA 2006. True story.

• MSU takes over deep in their own zone. Really deep. At the three. Two plays in, Hoyer gets on a little sideline roll, executing consecutive completions of 19 and 25 as they try and dig out of their hole.

• No. 83 -- I can't lie I don't even know his name -- but he drops a pass to kill the drive. He hasn't played the best game of his life today. A big holding penalty earlier and a couple of drops.

• Roughing the kicker penalties have to take one year off of a coach's life. Cal is whistled for one and the drive is still alive.

• With 11:05 left in the fourth, Ringer bounces outside then inside then sprints back outside for a touchdown. 24-21, Cal.

• There's my boy Best ... 35 yards on the kickoff return. Moments later, an Eli Manning to David Tyree moment. Riley scrambles around and is draped by a Spartan defender. He stays on his feet, figures why not, and throws a 26-yard prayer complete to Morrah.

• Then my main man Best -- who, no offense to MSU fans is my favorite college player -- does his thing and weaves to the four, followed a couple of plays later by a Cal touchdown. Riley to Ta'ufo'ou. Read that name. Try it. I dare you. Now let me pick up my handy Cal depth chart and see what the pronounciation is (tau-FOH-oh). 31-21, Cal.

• Swenson hits a 35-yarder to cut the lead to seven. 4:38 to go. 31-24, Cal. Both teams have two timeouts. Cue The Final Countdown, baby.

• Oh, how quickly a seven-point lead can double. First play, Shane Vereen busts one off-tackle down the sidelines and he is gone. Like long gone. He outran two Spartan defenders for 81 yards. He's a freshman too. If there's one thing I learned about Cal today, it's they have two fast running backs. 38-24, Cal.

• MSU gets the ball back and just when the Spartans appear dead in the water, they catch another break in the form of a Cal interception that touched the turf in between the defenders outstretched hands. It was a really nice play, capitalizing on a bad throw by Hoyer, short and behind the receiver. Dantonio challenged the call and won.

• Two plays later, Hoyer connects with Dell for a 29-yard touchdown and MSU is back within a touchdown.

• As MSU prepares to decide to put the fate of the game in the hands of their defense or kicker, I have to say this: Hoyer has played a good game. The interception to end the half wasn't a good pass but for the most pat he's shown a strong and accurate arm and his receivers haven't given him any help today.
The Spartans elect to kick deep and here we go ...

• Vereen and Best combine for a first down and the clock is dwindling on Michigan State's opener.

• Michigan State holds them on third down and Cal runs the clock out to 40 seconds after the punt bounces around and out of play.

• Hoyer and the Spartans have 40 seconds and needs 72 yards to tie.

• First play: Hoyer connects with Dell for 22 yards and he receives one heck of a hit in the process and hangs on. Ball is at midfield.

• I swear I was going to give Dell a nickname earlier in the blog and now I feel as if I'm behind the curve -- this guy has impressed me big time -- he's got nine receptions for 201 yards and a touchdown. "The Computer" was going to be the nickname by the way. That was stupid, I know.

• Three more incomplete passes put the clock at 18 seconds on 4th and 10 and this play is the game.

• Hoyer overshoots a receiver, the ball tipping off two Cal defensive backs, and all that's left to do is kill the clock. Cal wins, 38-31.

Third quarter

• Cal can't get anything going on their first drive and on fourth-down, the snap is low and the ball skips by the punter Anger. He tries to scoop the ball up and give it a boot but the Spartan defense swarms him and now the breaks that were going Cal's way in the first half are pointing towards the green and white.

• Starting just outside the ten, Dantonio rides Ringer into the end zone for four rushes, culminating in a one-yard touchdown. 17-14, Cal, 11:00 left in the third quarter.

• Riley is starting to make himself feel at home in the MSU secondary. He hooks up with senior Sean Young down the left sideline for a 42-yard gain, down to the six-yard line. Two plays later, Cal scores on a four-yard touchdown pass from Riley to Morrah for a 10-point Cal lead as the lights start to show at the stadium. 24-14, Cal, with six minutes left in the third.

• Dantonio insists on continuing to run Ringer -- who has 19 carries for 54 yards -- and Ringer isn't getting much help from his offensive line. The space just isn't there. Late in the third, I would start creating some tempo with Hoyer, who has only thrown one pass this half.

Halftime thoughts

• In the first half, Dantonio tried desperately to get Ringer involved, but he finished the half with only 35 yards on 13 carries.

• His counterpart, Jahvid Best, is looking more and more like he's going to fulfill the promise he carried into the season. He has 121 yards of total offense so far.

• Michigan State -- although putting together patches of streaky offense -- seems allergic to the end zone. Five punts, an interception and missed field goal aren't going to get the job done.

Second quarter

• Early in the second, the fleet-footed Best shows a glimpse of the Reggie Bush comparisons that have been floated around. He takes the handoff, cuts left and eludes a defender, scampering for 20 yards. Five minutes in, he has eight rushes for 47 yards.

• Cal can't cash in inside the ten and caps the 13-play, 66-yard drive with a field goal to take a 10-0 lead with 9:48 to play in the first half.

• MSU's offense -- which showed flashes early on but couldn't prolong those into points -- is starting to gain a rhythm with their first second-quarter possession. Ringer is grinding out tough yards and Hoyer delivers a nice pass to Mark Dell with a defensive lineman in his face.

• Awarded with a 15 yards after a Cal facemask, Ringer shifts his way to the doorstep of the goal line from the nine-yard line but there's a Michigan State hold and two plays later, they're behind the 20 facing third and long.

• On third and long, Hoyer delivers a pinpoint toss into the outstretched arms of Dell, just inside the end zone for a MSU touchdown -- but hold your horses, people, here comes the review team. It was an absolute perfect pass from Hoyer, as Dell was just outside the 15 when he let the ball fly, and the catch was equally as spectacular. A handful of replays later, the play is erased and out trots the field goal team.

• Being reviewed was the question of if the ball hit the ground, and it looked like Dell had his hand cradling it, but the official decided otherwise.

• Tough break for MSU. A perfectly executed play determined by less than an inch on replay. If I were wearing the zebra stripes, I would have upheld the cal on the field.

• MSU's special teams continue to implode as Brett Swenson pulls the chip-shot wide left into a sea of blue and gold. Cal takes over deep in their own zone with just over six minutes left in the half.

• Tedford is now giving senior Nate Longshore -- who received much criticism for his play during 2007 -- a number of snaps behind center, spelling the sophomore Riley, who was named the starter last week.

• On the first play of the drive, Riley connects with tight end Cameron Morrah for a 50-yard reception down the left sidelines. One play, half of the football field and Cal is in business again.

• After two more completions, Longshore is intercepted by senior safety Otis Wiley at the goal line. Like being shot out of a cannon, Wiley shoots up the gut to midfield.

• A huge play for the Spartan defense. Cal was barreling down on more points and was moving down the field with ease.

• After another three-and-out -- all Hoyer incompletions -- Cal takes over inside of their ten. Two plays later, Longshore heaves an ill-advised pass into a trio of Spartans, right into the hands of Wiley -- his second interception of the game. This time, all Wiley can see is the house and he takes a trip for six. 10-7, Cal, 3:00 second quarter.

• I don't know what they're doing with this quarterback carousel, but Longshore has two picks in five attempts. Riley has none in nine and has about 100 more yards. You do the math.

• Cal gets the ball back and Best does what he does, well, Best: Riley dumps him off a pass and he sprints his way down the field for a 42-yard gain.

• Two plays later -- after a 24-yard Riley completion, making one wonder why any other Cal quarterback would take a snap this game -- Best takes a handoff, uses his speed to dust three Spartans to the right and scores. 17-7, California, 1:45 left in the half.

• Today's ABC sideline reporter Heather Cox feels the need to report to us the most obvious of information: Best is a sprinter. He's a football player that wants to run track for Cal, and his numbers would meet the Olympic qualifying standards. So, in other words, he's really, really, really fast.

• With a minute left in the half, Hoyer orchestrates a Spartan drive into the Cal zone, looking to steal a few points heading into the half, but his first and 10 pass from the 12-yard line with 20 seconds left is an awful lob that's intercepted by Cal and the half ends.

First quarter

• It's a beautiful evening at Memorial Stadium and Dantonio is wasting no time in serving Cal a heavy dose of Ringer -- he is back deep to return the first kick and takes the first two rushes, gaining a total of five yards to set up an early 3rd and 5 for the Spartans.

• Senior quarterback Brian Hoyer -- looking to turn his past failures around -- will be searching early for a go-to guy after Devin Thomas bolted early for the draft in April. The early money is on redshirt freshman B.J. Cunningham: Hoyer completed two early passes to Cunningham for first downs and then connected for a long touchdown that was called back for offensive pass interference.

• MSU just barely avoids an early-game disaster as the drive stalls with a deep incomplete pass to Cunningham -- targeted for the fourth time on this drive. On the next play, a bad snap forces punter Aaron Bates to corral the ball on a bounce and get the kick off just in time.

• Cal goes three-and-out and the Spartans immediately return the favor after a booming Cal punt pins them inside their own 20. On fourth down, with Bates standing in his own end zone, he receives yet another low snap and this time he can't get the kick off: Cal's Brett Johnson blocks the punt, and it's recovered at the five by corner Bryant Nnanbuife, who dives in for a Cal touchdown. 7-0, California, 7:41 left in the first.

• MSU's insuing drive stalls at the Cal 37. Ringer has 24 yards on eight carries thus far -- more than half of the Spartans early offensive plays have gone through him.

• Coming into the game, it was no secret Ringer was going to get force-fed the ball, and it shows so far. Cal is stacking the line and nullifying any penetration by the MSU offensive line, routinely making contact with the runner within a yard or two of the line of scrimmage.

• The first quarter ends with Cal in possession at their own 35. The early special teams blunder aside, both the Spartans offense and defense has looked solid but if they're going to ride or die with Ringer, the big boys up front need to start pushing their weight.


The second year of the Mark Dantonio era at Michigan State kicks off roughly 2,300 miles west of East Lansing in Berkeley, California, where the Spartans will battle the Golden Bears of California in an intriguing opening week matchup that is merely as a blip on the opening week radar screen.

Tonight’s nationwide buzz is all about the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic in Atlanta, pitting two Top 25 teams, but this game could easily shape up as tonight’s best.

Here we have the Big Ten versus the Pac 10, two seven-win bowl teams from last year that finished near the bottom of their respective conferences yet bring to the table solid coaching, talent and promise.

In just a year’s time, Dantonio has seemingly changed the culture of Michigan State football, having his kids believing in the system. This isn’t your same old Spartan squad, and although last year’s record will disagree, all six losses in 2007 were by seven points or less.

Grabbing headlines for Michigan State is senior running back Javon Ringer, one of the best backs in the nation, who rushed for nearly 1,500 yards last year while deferring a portion of carries to the departed Jehuu Caulcrick.

As cliché as it sounds, look for the Spartans to utilize Ringer early and often against a Cal defense that last year had problems stopping the ground game, allowing 164 yards per game in their 3-4 defense – a defense historically good against the run.

Cal, who is notoriously overrated year-in and year-out, has good team speed on both sides of the ball and keep an eye out for sophomore running back/kick returner Jahvid Best. Best is a explosive runner, earning first-team All-Pac 10 special teams honors as a freshman with a 27-yard average on kicks last year. He missed three games last season due to a hip injury, but when running the ball, he gained 10 or more yards 37% of the time and Cal has a knack for churning out 1,000-yard rushers. (See: Arrington, J.J. and Lynch, Marshawn).

Cal coach Jeff Tedford – known around the country as a quarterback guru – will break in sophomore Kevin Riley for his first season opener and Tedford is 4-0 in his career against the Big Ten.

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