Football is back and for Michigan State, it means a big first game against Boise State. What a way to open the season. Top 25 opponent. Under the lights on Friday night. National television.
It's go time. Here is what to look for:
1. Sacks of Southwick
Boise State only allowed eight sacks last season, but this one should feature many more hits on the quarterbacks. Boise State loves to throw quick slants and any other quick pass, so the Spartans will have to get into the backfield quickly but it should happen plenty. As for Will Gholston and Marcus Rush, they also will need to make sure to get their hands up when they don't get to the QB in time, the passes will be quick.
Southwick is getting his first start and the Michigan State defense will be getting after him quickly and often.
2. A low-scoring game
Both teams are replacing players at almost all skill positions on offense and while the Spartans return eight starters on defense, the Broncos also are replacing a lot of defensive players -- despite many returning with starting experience.
Michigan State allowed just 18.4 points per game in 2011 and that trend should continue.
**More after the jump**
3. Players splitting time at defensive tackle/free safety for MSU
The two position battles remaining at Michigan State are at these spots. Micajah Reynolds and Tyler Hoover are listed as OR on the depth chart at defensive tackle, as are Jairus Jones and Kurtis Drummond. Expent Reynolds and Jones to get the starts, but Hoover and Drummond to see plenty of snaps.
4. An insane amount of four and five-wide sets by Boise State
Boise State will try to get the Michigan State defense spread out -- and in turn take MSU away from its attempts to use the A-gap blitz. The strength of the Michigan State defense is its blitzing and its ability to get into the backfield, but Boise State likes to spread the field. By forcing MSU to play more defensive backs, it takes away the opportunities for Pat Narduzzi to dial up the blitzes he likes most. The strength for Michigan State is when Johnny Adams and Darqueze Dennard are in press coverage and nine players are in the box, so look for Boise to spread the field and force MSU to play more defensive backs.
The Broncos have a new offensive coordinator in Robert Prince, but the formations should hold over pretty well from now-departed Brent Pease.
For more on what Boise State likes to do with motion offensively -- and what MSU likely will do to combat it -- check out this fine post by Heck over at The Only Colors.
5. A lot of Andrew Maxwell to Dion Sims.
The wide receiver corps are being broken in tonight, but Sims returns with significant experience. He also is a reliable target on third-and-5 type situations, for a short pass or off play-action. He also is an insane physical specimen (6-foot-5, 285 pounds) who can drag tacklers and move people downfield.
He should be a go-to target in this game for the new quarterback Maxwell.
When it comes down to it, it looks like it has all along: Michigan State should have an easier time scoring on Boise State than Boise State will have scoring on Michigan State. Behind a huge effort from Le'Veon Bell, the Spartans should have enough and the defense (as mentioned in plenty of the five things to look for) is the key as it will be through most games this season.
The Spartans will prevail 27-17.