SoP Q-and-A: @ChrisVannini talks Le'Veon Bell, Lakers Coach Mark D'Antonio, and MSU-Northwestern

Andy Lyons

Michigan State is only .500 despite the efforts of Le'Veon Bell and a top-15 defense. How does Spartans blogger Chris Vannini of The Only Colors think his team will fare against Northwestern?

We're too lazy to actually go ahead and learn anything about other teams, so we bring in people who know stuff about those teams so we don't have to sound like complete blowhards.

This week: Chris Vannini of The Only Colors.

SoP: I think y'all literally can't play a not-close game. Six games into the B1G schedule, we've got two overtime games and none decided by more than four points. How come you guys can play on par with undefeated Ohio State but let Iowa and Indiana hang in there and sometimes win?

In most cases, it has been the offense wasting a good performance by the defense, but against Indiana and Nebraska, the offense had to bail out the defense. It really has been incredible how every game has come down to the end. In many of those finishes, the defense couldn't get that last stop at the end. They couldn't get the stop late to get the offense the ball back against Ohio State. They let Iowa drive the length of the field and send that game into overtime with less than a minute left, then let Michigan drive into game-winning field goal range. Nebraska drove the length of the field for the winning touchdown in the final seconds, including a fourth-and-long conversion (refereeing mistakes aside). As good as this defense has been, when they've needed just one more play for the win, they haven't gotten it.

Having the No. 95-ranked offense doesn't help things, either.

You guys have the 11th best defense in the country, scoring-wise. Who should we be looking out for? What sort of stuff are you guys doing that's held teams like Ohio State and Michigan under 20 points?

Well, entering this season, they were lights-out against mobile quarterbacks, but Braxton Miller had a solid day on the ground against MSU, and then Taylor Martinez busted out some really long runs and finished with more than 200 yards. That has been surprising. They're a very aggressive defense that blitzes a lot, so if you dodge or break a tackle or two, you could have a lot of grass in front of you. Before last week, the run defense had been spectacular, and they were just giving up some big passing plays. But the Nebraska game makes me very worried about what Colter and Co. could do.

Le'Veon Bell came into the year with Heisman hopes. He's still a force to be reckoned with, but are people disappointed in his season, or was too much expected of him, or what?

MSU has gotten everything out of Bell that they can. Bell himself leads all Big Ten players in rushing, but the team is eighth in the conference. He's the entire rushing offense, and that's because the depleted offensive line isn't trustworthy. The line entered the year with four returning starters, but the right tackle and center suffered season-ending injuries early in the year, the left guard has been dealing with injuries all year, and the left tackle missed Michigan with a concussion. We like to joke and piggyback off of AIRBHG and say there's an offensive lineman-hating god around MSU. Every year, multiple starters suffer long-lasting injuries, and just about every talented OL recruit who comes to East Lansin suffers some wild catastrophic injury. The good news is that four starters should return for next year, but we know something is going to happen. Bell is the only running back who can pick up a couple yards when there isn't a hole, so he get just about every carry.

Almost a full year gone, how is life without Kirk Cousins?

Sad. I don't think people fully valued just how important his talent and leadership were. Still, I think Andrew Maxwell has gotten too much blame this season. MSU had to replace almost every skill position on offense. Gone were the three leading receivers, the two top tight ends, along with Cousins. The young receiving corps had major problems with drops early in the season, but that seems to have been fixed. Their route-running is not very good, and they just plain don't get open very much, although I might put some of that on the play-calling/play design, as well. Given all that, Maxwell's numbers have been pretty decent, and that's still behind a makeshift offensive line that doesn't give him much time to throw. All in all, just about everything that was a question mark about this passing offense entering the season has been failed.

How do you think Mark D'Antonio will handle juggle coaching MSU AND the Lakers? Do you think he can surpass Magic Johnson and Shannon Brown as the most important Spartans in Lakers history?

keep seeing Lakers fans upset that the defense will go down the drain, and I just don't see how that's possible. If there's one thing Dantonio knows, it's defense. Now, that may be football defense, but how hard could basketball be? Tom Izzo thinks he could be the football coach, after all. I just pray that Dantonio doesn't take Izzo to Los Angeles with him. But I don't think Izzo wants to be in an assistant's role.

Prediction for the game or whatever?

I've had a hard time thinking of a score for this one. The Nebraska performance makes me think this could be high-scoring, but having the bye week theoretically would help prepare for the Wildcats offense. I think MSU did a good job getting the run game going out of the shotgun against Nebraska, but the passing offense was a mess. I'm going to go out on a limb and say this comes down to the fourth quarter, and MSU makes the play at the end to win. Which side of the ball? I don't know.
MSU 24, Northwestern 21

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