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September 09, 2008

Talking smack talk

"We will score a lot against them, trust me."

        That comment, from Florida Atlantic kick returner Jeff Blanchard, about Michigan State's defense, appeared in Sunday's South Florida Sun-Sentinel. MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi made sure to tell his guys about it before Tuesday's practice.
    "We said, 'All right, we'll just wait and see,'" said MSU cornerback Ross Weaver, who got practice reps at safety on Tuesday.
    So here's Florida Atlantic, embarking on its second monster road game in three weeks of football, finding a way to prod its heavily favored opponent again. Blanchard's comment, though, was nothing like what head coach Howard Schnellenberger said about season-opening foe Texas over the summer.
    Here's Schnellenberger's quote, given to FAU's student paper, the University Press:
    "Texas always has a very polished team that has great talent, but they aren't tough; they aren't a physically tough team. My defense will get to a point where they will be mean, nasty and ornery [expletive], and that's what you need for Texas. Texas will move the ball with tit-for-tat, screens and options, but we'll make them pay a price whenever they catch one of those dinky passes. We'll put three hats on them and make them not want to get up; that's the way to beat Texas."
    So the Longhorns came out before the game yelling, slobbering, taking off shirts and showing muscles, all lathered up for a game against Florida Atlantic. Texas 52, FAU 10.
     "I know one thing, they're a lot tougher than we are," Schnellenberger said at his postgame press conference. "I don't know if my remarks helped their team, if they did, then I apologize to my team."
    I asked Schnellenberger in a phone conversation Monday about the Texas comments. He said he was simply trying to convey the fact that his team had to be more physical to have a chance against a team with much more talent. And he was trying to fire up his own guys.   
   “It was something I sure as hell didn’t want to get to Texas,” he said.
    Uh, coach, there's this thing called the Internet...
    But that's the thing about Schnellenberger (one of this game's great coaches and personalities, by the way. Look for much more on him, his career and the incredible rise of Florida Atlantic in Saturday's Gameday section). He actually deserves the title "old school." Ted Hutton, the FAU beat writer for the Sun-Sentinel, told me all of FAU's practices and scrimmages are open to the media. And he lets media take video as they wish.
    That, folks, is unheard of in the 21st Century. It's unheard of in the late '80s.
    But Schnellenberger is open, he does things the way he's always done them and he certainly isn't afraid of giving a quote.
    I also got the strong sense Monday that he's trying not to give Michigan State anything extra this week.
    I asked him what it would mean to upset the Spartans.
    “If it would so happen that we’d be able to eke out a one-point win over a team like that in their home, it’d be nearly unbelievable, it’d be the highest mark we could get," he said, overcompensating gratuitously. "It would go down in the annals of building teams as a near miracle. But our team has confidence that we can go up there and win, and I believe them.”
    Blanchard verbalized that confidence. Michigan State is running with it.
    “Not really,” Weaver said when asked if the comment angered him. “I’ll let our actions do the talking.”
    Coaches didn't bother telling the offense. When he heard about it, OT Jesse Miller responded: "That's cute."
    Some Owls are being careful. I asked FAU defensive tackle Jervonte Jackson today about Blanchard's words.
     “That’s on offense, I can’t talk about what my offense does," he said. "I can only worry about what the defense says. This is gonna be a battle up front and those guys are gonna come to play.”
    Now there's more of what Florida Atlantic needs this week. Vanilla, vanilla, vanilla.
    I think the "bulletin board" stuff is a bit overrated. I mean, these guys play 12 games a year and they all know they'll get mangled for life if they don't come out ready for battle. But there must be something to it if coaches have grad assistants scouring the Web for fodder and pasting it all over the walls.
    Maybe it's a little extra oomph in practice, a little more concentration in the film room. Help that Florida Atlantic really didn't need to give to Michigan State.

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Joe Rexrode
MSU Sports Reporter
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