(This story originally appeared on TheOaklandPress.com)
EAST LANSING — During the Big Ten season, there was a lot of buzz about how Wisconsin’s offensive line was bigger than some lines in the National Football League.
The Spartans had five sacks of Wisconsin’s quarterback, but allowed 346 rushing yards in the two games. Now the Spartans are preparing for Georgia in the Outback Bowl and some of the top college talent from the Southeastern Conference. That includes an offensive line whose starters average more than 6-foot-3 in height and 329 pounds in weight.
“Someone said they’re considered the biggest offensive line in the country,” defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said at MSU’s bowl media day Tuesday. “They’re bigger than Wisconsin? Are you kidding me? … They’re strong, they get their hands on you, they can put you on your back.”
MSU plans to head to Tampa, Fla., on Dec. 26 and use about five allotted practices there. As the Spartans prepare for the Bulldogs, they’re finding some things are difficult to prepare for, such as Georgia’s 3-4 defense with a 351-pound nose tackle. The Bulldogs have the No. 3 defense in terms of total yards.
“It’s very hard to duplicate exactly what we’ll see,” offensive coordinator Dan Roushar said. “Their starting nose guard is 351 pounds and the guy they bring in behind him is probably 320 pounds. That’s going to be a challenge in itself. … When you become one-dimensional, they can get after the quarterback.”
Narduzzi said Georgia runs a pro-style offense with three wide receivers, and the Spartans will counter with their base three-linebacker defense. Safety Trenton Robinson said Georgia’s offense style plays well into what MSU’s defense wants to do.
“They’re a more simple offense compared to some of the teams that we’ve faced. I think they have one of the simplest offenses we’ve faced this year," Robinson said. "So that will be good for our defense, because they don’t do a whole lot of different stuff. That’s good for our defense because we don’t have to be out there thinking (about complex schemes). They don’t do a whole lot of that."
A problem that could come for MSU’s defense is the fact Georgia likes to get the ball out of quarterback Aaron Murray’s hands quickly, which could negate the blitzing on which MSU’s defense has made its living this year. Youngstown State threw quick passes in the first game of the season and was able to move the ball effectively in the first half before MSU adjusted.
“What sticks out to me the most is they really get the ball out quick,” Narduzzi said. “It’s a real quick passing game, so they don’t really give you a chance to get much pressure on them. So we’re going to have to be very careful with pressure.”
The extra bowl practices have recently been used by MSU as time for position switches.
In 2009, Keith Nichol used the time to transition to wide receiver, and last season, Dan France used the time to switch to offensive line from defensive line. This season has been no different.
With defensive tackle Kevin Pickelman out with a knee injury, Micajah Reynolds is the No. 3 at the position. A sophomore, Reynolds has spent time on both sides of the ball in his two years, but he may finally have position security.
Narduzzi pulled Reynolds aside after Monday’s practice and told Reynolds if he kept practicing as well as he has, he won’t see the offensive line again.
“Guys sometimes step up when they need to, and I think he’s (looking good),” Narduzzi said.
Tony Lippett, who spent most of the season at defensive back, has spent the last four practices at wide receiver, head coach Mark Dantonio said. Lippett has played on both sides of the ball this season, but may move to wide receiver on a more permanent basis next season, as MSU graduates its top three receivers.
Lewis moves forward
Despite the Big Ten Championship Game having happened more than two weeks ago, Isaiah Lewis’ coverage mistake and special teams penalty late in the game remained a hot topic at media day.
Dantonio said he gave Lewis a hug after the game, and that everyone had moved on. Coaches and players said Lewis’ penalty was a result of other players making mistakes on the punt block. Lewis said he had received a lot of heat from fans, but only from places like message boards. Everyone else was supportive, and he’s moved on.
"I deal with it,” Lewis said. “It’s not going to put me down. I’m going to keep playing.”