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October 07, 2010

Neely and Pickelman back; Dantonio active; Treadwell impressed; Narduzzi having fun; you counting seconds

More news than your average Thursday out of the Duffy, where Pat Narduzzi said Colin Neely and Kevin Pickelman will be back for the Michigan game after both missed Wisconsin.

    “Neely’s one of our best defensive ends if not the best and he’s active and makes plays," Narduzzi said. "So it’ll be important to get Neely back for sure. Pickelman inside is a tough son of a gun that plays his gap constantly and has a lot of experience, so it’ll be good to get both of them back.”

    Meanwhile, Mark Dantonio did take part in his radio show tonight, via phone, and the plan remains the same. He'll be in the coaches box Saturday, right next to Narduzzi. Narduzzi said Dantonio has been "very active" this week.

    “Coach has been here the duration," offensive coordinator Don Treadwell said of Dantonio's involvement this week. "He’s the lead horse and we just all follow suit. We’re certainly glad to see him on a regular basis. And you can just tell in his voice and his actions, the strength that’s back.”
    Dantonio has been selective with his involvement and is taking it easy on the walking.
    “Obviously the players, he’s always gonna be with them," Treadwell said. "He’ll pick and choose times when he’s with us on offense and defense and kind of work from there. ... He gets around a little bit. He may not be running all over the place as you can imagine but yeah, he gets around where he needs to be and puts his emphasis where he wants it to be.”

    Also:

    * Treadwell spoke glowingly of the Michigan defense. Here you go.

    “One of the things that really stands out on tape is, they do a tremendous job of rallying to the football," he said. "They do as well if not better than anyone we’ve played at this point in terms of rallying to the football and tackling. They’ve got tremendous players on the front end, the linebacker position, a lot of skill on the back end. And one of the things … they do is they really wrap. That stood out to our whole staff in terms of their tackling ability.”
    So why do you suppose they’ve struggled?
    “It’s interesting. I’m not sure, because as I just said, when you watch them on tape, they are from sideline to sideline, they wrap ballcarriers up, etc. So I don’t know if it’s one thing at all, because we have a lot of respect for what that defense does.”

    Well, what do you expect the guy to say?  Anyone who has watched U-M's defense this season will agree that nose tackle Mike Martin is a load.

    “Martin is a phenomenal player," Treadwell said. "You talk about a guy in the middle that’s a dominant player in the Big Ten, in my opinion. He has the strength, he has the quickness, he has the size and obviously he has the tenacity to be a great player.”

    * Dantonio said this on his show about the Wisconsin game: “It was everything I was hoping we’d accomplish as a football program since I came here.”
    He also said George Perles spoke to the team Wednesday, with this message about what the Michigan game means: “Sixty minutes that lasts a lifetime. And that’s what we carry with us.”

    Host George Blaha asked Dantonio about being right in the middle of everything this week and he said: “I would not have it any other way.”

    * And Narduzzi, had usual, had a lot of interesting things to say. 

    Denard Robinson reminds him of Pat White, the former West Virginia quarterback who led the Mountaineers to wins of 38-0 and 42-24 over this staff in its second and third seasons at Cincinnati. Narduzzi was asked if he'd use the same game plan.

    "It didn’t work at Cincinnati so I don’t know.," he said. "Might throw that one out.”

    Might MSU use more 3-4 for this game?

    “You never know, you never know. We’ll find out. Maybe we’re saving something.”

    (That came off as a joke, by the way, based on the line of questioning before the ND game).

    Narduzzi praised freshman WR Tony Lippett for his work on the scout team, emulating Robinson.
    “Tony did a great job. Tony was excellent. Tony did a great job for us so that’s all I can say, he did a really good job.”
    How is he similar?
    “First of all, he’s a great leader, so he led the offense. He did a great job with the cadence and everything else that we asked him to do. How is he similar? He’s pretty quick, he’s pretty fast and he’s pretty elusive. And he played with a lot of energy, like (Robinson) does.”
    How did the defense do this week?
    “On Tuesday we didn’t look very good, on Wednesday we looked pretty good and today we looked pretty good. So we’ll find out.”

    Narduzzi said there's "no carry-over" from the Wisconsin game to the Michigan game, and that he thinks the transition from playing Wisconsin's offense to Michigan's offense made for a rough Tuesday. It really is like going from wrestling to speed skating.
    Narduzzi said MSU will have "little tweaks" for an offense that he said goes four-wide often this season after going three-wide "exclusively" last season. Tweaks but no major installments.
    “If we changed total defenses, it’d be like a warmup for them," he said.
    As for Mr. Robinson (and we'll have much more on that matchup Saturday), Narduzzi is impressed but also cautious about building him up too much to his players.
    “We don’t try to make it any different, like, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re facing ..’ You know, he’s a quarterback, he’s athletic, he can run, and we’ve faced guys like that in the past," he said. "It’s no different.

    "He’s a great player but we haven’t over-emphasized it to the point where our kids are gonna look at each other and go, ‘Oh my God, how are we gonna defend that guy? We can’t tackle that guy. Coaches say he’s great.’ He’s a good player. He’s a very good player. We’ll find out how good he is Saturday afternoon.”

    Are you having fun preparing for him?
    “It’s really fun to game plan for him, it’s what we coach football for, to game plan what we’re doing against him. The game of football better be fun. You know, you guys get all tight, I had some guy that doesn’t coach football last night tell me he can’t sleep at night. He’s in the phone business and he can’t sleep or get any rest. I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?’” But we have fun coaching and our kids have fun playing. You better have fun doing it. It’s gonna be a challenge and I think they think it’s a fun challenge.”

    One thing MSU wants to do, obviously, is put hits on Robinson whenever possible.

    “We’d like to hit him as much as we possibly can, yeah. You know, again, without being cheap. We got called a couple years ago against Penn State on some of the option stuff and hitting him, but we want to do it legally. If he doesn’t have the ball you can’t really hit him, I guess.”
       MSU has had mixed results against dual-threat quarterbacks under this staff. Terrelle Pryor and Daryll Clark gouged the Spartans in 2008, although those were also instances of across-the-board physical superiority.

    The Spartans have stifled Northwestern the past two seasons, although their QBs didn't have anything near Robinson's  home run ability. MSU did a pretty good job against Kellen Lewis and Indiana in 2007, winning 52-27 after letting Lewis run for a long touchdown on IU's first play from scrimmage.

    That play is a teaching point for Narduzzi this week. End Jonal Saint-Dic did not fulfill his assignment on the play, and there was no containment on the edge.

    "He bit the cheese like the mouse under the refrigerator, and boom, Lewis went the distance.”

    Assignment discipline is crucial against the option. And MSU's safeties are under a special kind of pressure, considering the way Robinson sells a running play until he's at the cusp of the line of scrimmage, then pulls up to hit breaking receivers.
    “There’s pressure on 11 guys out there," Narduzzi said. "You know, when you play Wisconsin, you don’t really have to defend the quarterback. He drops back and does nothing. We have to defend 11 guys. That’s a spread offense when the quarterback can carry the ball, that’s the difference. It’s 11 on 11. Most of the time it’s 10 on 11, we’ve got one extra guy. So the safeties are more critical than in any game that you’ll play (against) any spread offense, when the guy’s running the ball. It’s real critical.”

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Joe Rexrode
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