December 26, 2007

Cronan: MSU is big and physical

R.R. Marshall: Peter, it may not be Atlanta on New Years Eve but BC finds themselves in a pretty decent bowl this year in Orlando. What do you say to those Eagle followers that feel their team was screwed over once again?

Peter Cronan: You have to understand that BC's bowl selection is largely a function of commerce; it's about how many people are going to their city and bringing their pocketful of cash. That's what it's all about. In retrospect the loss to Maryland is huge; that's the game you'd like to have back. BC earned their way to this game but missed out on the Chick-fil-A Bowl to Clemson because of the one-loss rule coming into play. Now if you step back to take a broad view of this scenario the bowl destination has actually improved. If you recall last year we were disappointed when BC didn't go to this particular bowl game, so from that perspective we're one more rung up the ladder.

RRM: There's been some speculation that the Eagles may be a bit down having lost out on both the Orange and Chick-fil-A bowls. We saw last year against Navy what happens when the team isn't charged up about their bowl destination. Any chance of that being a problem again this time around?

PC: Last year in the bowl game against Navy it was an entirely different situation. You had all the emotional upheaval with Tom O'Brien leaving and now you have a stable coaching staff so the difference is like night and day. Is this just routine for BC? I think these players are genuinely excited about the chance to play another game and get that bad taste of the loss in the ACC Championship Game out of their mouths with a victory. This team has grown accustomed to winning and that should serve as a great motivator for these guys. I've heard they've had a very good couple of weeks of practice in the bubble and they are really looking forward to matching up with Michigan State. While the Orange Bowl or the Chick-fil-A Bowl are certainly very desirable destinations the Champs Sports Bowl is a pretty desirable destination in its own right. I know the players are going to have a good time down there. You have the nice weather and a great venue to go with an outstanding opponent, so I just can't see BC taking this opponent lightly.

RRM: BC's opponent in the Champ Sports Bowl is the Michigan State Spartans. Their rookie head coach Mark Dantonio has them in the postseason for the first time since 2003 and they appear to be team on the rise, but most look at their 7-5 record in the Big Ten and just yawn. Should we as well?

PC: You would do so at your own risk because this is a pretty good football team. Michigan State started the season 4-0 but then they lost a tough knock-down, drag-out game with Wisconsin. They got beat by a touchdown by the Badgers and then a week later they essentially let Wisconsin beat them again when they lost in overtime to Northwestern. After they rebounded they lost by a touchdown to Ohio State and then by only four points to Michigan, but finished strongly with consecutive wins over Purdue and Penn State to finish at 7-5, so their record is a bit deceiving.

The interesting thing about Michigan State is that they look a lot like Tom O'Brien's Boston College Eagles. They are huge up front and they are determined to run the ball against you, and the thing about them is they are extremely patient with their running game. They'll run it, you'll stuff them. They'll run it, you'll stuff them, and then they'll come back and they'll run it again. This is a team with over 2,200 yards rushing out of the tailback position matched up against the #1 rush defense in the country. They have two extremely talented tailbacks in Javon Ringer and Jehuu Caulcrick (what a great football name that is!), so this match up will be intriguing to say the least. I like BC's chances in that match up although they're still not 100% physically after being pretty beat up at the end of the season. You really have to give Frank Spaziani and his assistants a lot of credit for holding this defense together with band aids and baling wire down the stretch.

RRM: What can you tell us about Michigan State's quarterback Brian Hoyer?

PC: Brian Hoyer is the type of quarterback that plays within the system. He doesn't do anything spectacular but he doesn't do anything to hurt his team, either. Hoyer is not a scrambler but primarily a pocket passer. He doesn't force the ball or make many mistakes, he just plays within the system very effectively. He threw 18 touchdown passes with only seven interceptions, and having only seven interceptions really jumps out at me. This team is predisposed to running the ball, and if Michigan State can get its running game together this guy can kill you. His two starting receivers Devin Thomas and Mark Dell have great size, and Thomas is just a phenom. He's the #2 receiver in all of the Big Ten and he's excellent at running the football as well; he's averaged over six yards an attempt on his 27 carries. They will line him up in the backfield, put him in motion, run reverses with him, the works. He's the real deal; someone you will see playing on Sundays in the not too distant future. One guy that doesn't get a lot of attention is their 6-6, 246 tight end Kellen Davis, who has caught five touchdown passes this season. He's an NFL prospect and a few feel that he will be the best tight end BC has faced all year, and he could pose some match up problems.

RRM: What about the Michigan State defense? How do they match up against BC's wide open passing offense?

PC: This is a pressure defense that BC will be up against. The Spartans love to bring six, and they overload the gaps depending upon the formation and down and distance. They'll run the inside backer blitz with the safety and they'll run the outside backer blitz with the corner. They basically play a three-deep, two-under zone but that morphs into a two-deep, two-under man coverage so that they can get an extra guy in the pass rush. They will bring seven on occasion in what is an all or nothing chance; they like to roll the dice figuring they are going to get to you even though they are leaving themselves exposed for the big play. They force the quarterback into finding that point of exposure, and if he can then it becomes a big play. Most of their opponents haven't been able to do that, but with a quarterback the caliber of Matt Ryan you would like to think he will be able to exploit them.

The Spartans are very active up front led by 6-1, 255 defensive end Jonal Saint-Dic, who is one of the best defensive lineman in the Big Ten. They loved to situational blitz and they do a lot of things to be disruptive. They have very aggressive cornerbacks and safeties with their leader free safety Ross Weaver. They want to knock your block off on every play, which means they may be susceptible to play action. It is essential that BC gets the running game going against them, because if they do they can sell the play action and throw the ball over their heads. Their statistics on defense are a little bit misleading as they have yielded over 20 points per game but allowed only an average of 329 yards per game. The Eagles averaged 329 a game in the air, so you figure something has to give.

RRM: It goes without saying that the better Matt Ryan looks in this game the more his stock rises among the NFL scouts. Any early opinions on exactly where he'll land on draft day?

PC: If you wanted to start from scratch and build a quarterback for the pro game Ryan would be the final result. He has the size, arm strength, intelligence and all the intangibles that go into being a successful NFL quarterback. He will land high in the first round of the NFL draft, exactly where is still a little hazy at this point. A lot will depend on what Bill Parcells and Miami decides to do with that #1 pick. If a team ends up trading up for the #1 selection that means Ryan will slip down. I would think he would have to go somewhere in the top 12 selections but it is still too far away to figure out exactly where.

RRM: All the experts are predicting a wide open, high-scoring contest. Is that game you expect to see as well?

PC: I think this game is probably going to be tighter than people are making it out to be. Michigan State presents the best running attack BC will have faced all season. They have an absolutely huge offensive line, picture Gosder Cherilus across the board. We look as Gosder as the anomaly on the BC offensive line with his size, but on their offensive line they are all his size. They don't run sideline to sideline; it's good old fashioned, smash mouth, north and south running that typifies the Big Ten style and I don't know if BC has faced a team that approaches their offensive style. I don't think the Michigan State offense is explosive. They can be because they wear you down, but I think it's more of the old Woody Hayes, three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust approach. Unless a running team can get you tired in the fourth quarter I don't think they tend to be terribly explosive, but I think BC can be explosive. The Eagles will need to come out and assert themselves right from the start. They will need to get Andre Callender and the running game going and in doing so create some opportunities to throw the ball over the top.

RRM: The bowl winning streak is at seven and counting. Has this thing now become a matter of pride to the BC players to keep it going?

PC: There's no question about it. They lead the nation in consecutive bowl victories and they are going to do their part. This team is dominated by 22 seniors and they know what the bowl experience is like. It is absolutely a matter of pride to them, and from talking to them it was very clear that they were really looking forward to playing in this football game. Don't discount that as a motivational factor because I can tell you it is a really important thing for the legacy of this senior class to keep the streak alive.

RRM: What's the schedule for the trip down this week?

PC: We fly out the day after Christmas and do the bowl experience thing and then play the game on the 28th and then come home the 29th. Speaking for myself if will be a nice respite to get away from this frozen tundra we've all been walking around in for the past few weeks. I can certainly think of worse places to be this time of year, and one of them is in Idaho! The team has had the benefit in what is in essence another spring practice for bowl preparation, which is the hidden benefit of playing in the postseason in the college game. The kids that are future get a lot of reps while it gives your banged up players a chance to recuperate. Right now DeJuan Tribble, Jo-Lonn Dunbar, and Tyronne Pruitt are all expected to play although Dunbar is still gimping around with that high ankle sprain. They haven't played in a month and there is this pent up anxiety you get as a player that you want to take out on someone else. They'll have their chance to do that this week, and I'm really looking forward to this one. It will be nice to get back to action and try to end the year on the winning side of things.

RRM: Ticket sales for the bowl game have been lower than expected once again. It's hard to believe no one wants to go to Orlando and get away from Boston for a few days?

PC: We say Orlando is a great winter destination but who really goes to Orlando the week between Christmas and New Years? Many of them are either hosting relatives for the holiday or are traveling themselves. I think it's a hard destination for a lot of people to get to, and it's also expensive so the travel becomes prohibitive. It's been in the 70's down there so anyone reading this that wants to get out of this New England winter weather hop on a flight down to Orlando and come to the game on Friday. I promise it will be a lot of fun!

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