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September 13, 2011

Let's talk (mostly) football and not (much about) uniforms

So many things to discuss. How about that Notre Dame defense? Is it what we saw in the first three quarters at Michigan or in the fourth quarter?

    “I view them as the first three quarters," Kirk Cousins said. "I don’t pay a lot of attention to the fourth quarter. I think a couple of those balls, if No. 4 turns his back around it’s an interception. So it’s great for Michigan to win the game but I don’t view it a whole lot as their defense is terrible and Michigan’s offense is amazing. I view it as, if that guy turns around, the game’s over long ago. So I expect them to be a very, very tough defense.”

    No. 4, by the way, is senior cornerback Gary Gray. He's getting the Jaren Hayes treatment, circa 2004, in South Bend. Reporters are coming up just short of asking Brian Kelly if he plans to sit Gray in the corner for a two-week timeout. Here's what Kelly said Tuesday about Gray:

    "It's unfortunate that people look at that one position because it's not just Gary Gray that we put this loss on," Kelly said. "There's a lot of situations. If we don't turn the ball over, Gary Gray's name is not even brought up.
    "Gary is going to be fine. He's a senior. He'll bounce back. He had a great game last year against Michigan State, and he's been really solid for us. So we need Gary Gray to come up and play good football this weekend against Michigan State."

    Cousins obviously saw the Gray mistakes and is aware of the criticism, but he's not looking at Gray like a weak link. Really, he isn't.

    “It’s unfortunate for him, I think he’s a very, very good corner," Cousins said of Gray. "He’s played a lot of football for them. So when you’ve played that long, I feel like he’s gonna be ready. And obviously he had an off night last week, but he’s right in position. It’s not like he’s getting beat deep.

    "I mean he’s right there to make the play, so that shows he’s in position and has the athleticism to cover people, and I think it’s probably a little undeserved criticism on his end. And I expect him to come back this week and play at a much higher level. So I don’t think it’s something where we’re saying, ‘Let’s pick on him, we think he’s weak.’ I think that across the board they’re a much better defense than maybe that last quarter showed against Michigan.”

    * Still, the coverage busts in the final 70 seconds or so, on both sides of the ND-Michigan game, were amazing considering the situation.

    “I was surprised," Cousins said. "I was very surprised to see that, and things happen. Football’s a complicated game and sometimes you just miscommunicate in the moment, and you’ve got two guys covering one receiver and someone else is open. That happens. That’s part of playing football, you make mistakes. Obviously those were costly that they had last week. But I expect them to get that cleaned up this week. Just in time for us.”

    * Notre Dame has 10 turnovers in two games, have you heard? Kelly believes his team will clean that stuff up. The Spartans are hoping they won't and would like to help make that not happen.

    "Well, let's hope not," Mark Dantonio said when asked if ND is due for a clean game. "Hope not. I think our job is to get turnovers, create turnovers. They just aren't handed out there, they're created a lot of times. That's our job to try to win that battle. We have to win that battle. That's something that really determines wins and losses, as you can see. We've got to win the turnover battle."

    "Whenever you see a team that has (that many) turnovers, that’s a big focus point for us," Max Bullough said. "That means there’s opportunities there. There’s guys that have been getting the ball on the ground. And a few more they fumbled and were able to recover. But I mean that’s an opportunity. These guys are dropping them and we need to take these opportunities and take advantage of them.”

    When Notre Dame isn't turning it over, it's gaining more than 500 yards a game (on two BCS opponents, by the way). MSU will probably be happy not to see Kyle Rudolph this week, but Michael Floyd, Theo Riddick (who went off in EL last year), TJ Jones (very talented) and tight end Tyler Eifert make up quite a quartet.

    This could be the most formidable passing attack MSU faces this season -- in fact, I don't think there's any question about that -- and the Spartans know the Irish will be putting it up often.

    “I hope they do," Trenton Robinson said. "I mean, the more they throw, the more opportunities for us to make plays on the ball. Throw the ball up in the air, who’s gonna make a play on the ball? Because I know that our defense is gonna be in position to make plays. And that’s what it’s gonna come down to. It’s gonna come down to, who’s gonna make a play on the ball?”

    * Dantonio mentioned a couple times Tuesday that MSU still hasn't established its "identity" as a team. So he was asked what he'd like that identity to be.

    "Identity is to have a great defense that is very tough to run on, to throw on, creates turnovers," he said. "Have an offense that has balance, big-play perspective, (doesn't turn) it over. Special teams that can dominate. All the good things. Everything that's good in football. That's what I want our identity to be, Christmas every day."

    * OK, let's wrap up this Pro Combat talk until Michigan week (and by the way, if MSU loses to Michigan, you know those uniforms will be blamed for all of society's ills, right?)

    The value of the uniforms, Mark Hollis told me Tuesday, is about $200,000, but they're free for MSU. No decision has been made yet on what will become of them after the U-M game (it's possible the players will get to keep them).

    Good discussion today on the unis, about what I expected. Tonight after practice Will Gholston put into words why the players are so excited about these uniforms. Gholston, as you may recall from Big Ten media days in Chicago, is the one who approached Dantonio about approaching Nike about outfitting the Spartans.

    "We want to be an elite program, we want to be at the top and we are making strides to do that," Gholston said. "But also, just my personal opinion, if you look good, you play good and you feel good. And everybody else that’s at that elite level has a different type of jersey nowadays in this era. So I figured I’d just ask him because you never know until you find out.”

    Dantonio got it done.

    “I’m glad he took my idea and respected it and asked seriously," Gholston said. "That really shows me a lot.”

    MSU's unity council actually saw pictures of the uniforms a couple months ago, but they didn't give many clues to the rest of the team. Gholston saw them for the first time Tuesday morning after a friend texted him that they were all over the Web.

    “I said, ‘When you see it you’re just gonna be like wow, that’s sweet.’ We didn’t want to give them too much detail," said Robinson, one of the vets who got an early peek and voted an emphatic yay on them. "It’s like Christmas, you know, you don’t want to give it away. Everybody thinks they want to know their gift but you don’t want to know it until, when you get to see it, it’s a better feeling.”

    Robinson said he's talked to some of his former MSU teammates who are "kind of ticked off" that they didn't get a chance to wear these Pro Combats. He said the current players enthusiastically and unanimously approve. And he said he'd be fine with this as a permanent change.

    “Yeah, I would, I would," he said. "That would be sweet. But it’s tradition, this has a lot of tradition. That green and white, you can’t get rid of the green and white. That’s what we are, Michigan State is green and white.”

    Cold but still edible, this week's three questions.

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Joe Rexrode
MSU Sports Reporter
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