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Game Preview: Michigan State vs Florida Atlantic

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Owls Head to Detroit to take on Spartans at Ford Field


Coming off one of the most thrilling games in program history, a last second 32-31 victory at UAB, Florida Atlantic football welcomes week two of the 2010 season with a trip to Detroit in a match-up against Michigan State.

Led by true-freshman running back Le'Veon Bell, the Spartans cruised past Western Michigan in their season opener, winning 38-14 at home and racking up 486 yards of total offense. Bell rushed for 141 yards and two touchdowns in his first career game, and was complimented by another 117 yards and two more touchdowns from running back Edwin Baker.

However, Michigan State and its offense didn’t feature the team’s number one tailback Larry Caper against the Broncos, instead resting him with a right hand injury. Caper is expected to return against the Owls this Saturday, and should contribute to an already talented backfield.

“It puts them in a position, where they have a terrific problem with who to play, and how much to play each one of them,” Head Coach Howard Schnellenberger said of the Spartans backfield. “They have depth at every position and talent at every position.”

The running game was one of the main concerns with FAU’s defense against UAB, as they surrendered 345 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Yet, Michigan State’s offense brings a different look than the spread and doesn’t use a quick quarterback like the Blazers did. MSU offensive coordinator Don Treadwell likes to run the ball and rely on the play action pass.

The Spartans will be starting junior quarterback Kirk Cousins for the second consecutive year.  Last week threw for 186 yards and a touchdown against WMU.

“He’s an excellent quarterback, he’s got a strong arm and knows the offense,” defensive coordinator Kurt Van Valkenburgh said of Cousins.  "We felt we needed to pay the nickel against UAB. This week, were are not going to get too many opportunities to do that."

Cousins will have plenty of targets to throw too, and his two top wide receivers are Mark Dell and B.J. Cunningham. Dell and Cousins connected six times for 81 yards last Saturday while Cunningham grabbed one ball for 11 yards. Another pass catcher to keep an eye on is Keith Nichol, a former quarterback and transfer from Oklahoma, who pulled in a touchdown in the opener.

Defensively, linebacker Greg Jones headlines Michigan State’s defense and is one of the top players in the nation. A 2009 Consensus First-Team All-American and The Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Jones is a force at middle linebacker and makes plays all over the field, something that FAU starting quarterback Jeff Van Camp is aware of.

“Greg Jones is a beast, he gets off blocks well, he flies to the ball, he’s well coached, and he’s the leader of that defense, you can tell,” Van Camp said of Jones. “He’s going to wreak havoc on us if we don’t control him Saturday.”

Along with Jones, the Spartans defense has playmakers in its secondary with safety Marcus Hyde and cornerback Chris Rucker. One of the tasks for the 6’2” 200 pound Rucker will be to cover FAU wide receiver Lester Jean who had a career day against the Blazers tallying nine catches for 164 yards and two touchdowns.

“I know what he (Jean) is doing on every route, that’s what is so good about the chemistry between us,” Van Camp said of the connection with the wide receiver. “He’s a great route runner; he’s going to make me look good.”

With the only prior meeting between the Owls and Michigan State a 17-0 loss in 2008, the program will look to improve on the last result in which former Spartan running back Javon Ringer ran the ball 43 times for 282 yards, and had a career day.

“The concept of the defense, and the concept of the offense are very similar and if not the same, there still doing the same thing and were still doing the same thing,” Schnellenberger said of the contest two years ago. “It helps to know if they’ve stayed the same and not gone to something all together different.”

The Matchups:

RB Alfred Morris running at LB Greg Jones- With 368 career tackles, Jones is a defensive machine for the Spartans. Starting the season off with a nine tackles, a forced fumble and a pass break up performance, Jones is already in prime form. FAU’s Morris will see a lot of action against Jones, and will need to break some tackles after contact.

DT Jarvis Givens stopping the Spartans run – Givens had a good game against UAB, with a well-timed sack, and  two tackles. MSU’s trio of ball carriers will want to run in-between the tackles and Givens needs to get pressure up the middle.

Offensive Coordinator Darryl Jackson vs. Defensive Coordinator Pat Narduzzi- MSU’s defense has been talented under Narduzzi’ watch, mostly because of the commitment to taking away the run game. Jackson and the Owls coaching staff will have to game plan for a balanced offensive look, which can run and pass. "We have another test for our offensive line", said Jackson.

By the Numbers:

- 345 rushing yards. UAB rushed the ball with easy last Thursday night, and that will need to change this Saturday. Michigan State will want to run the ball with a host of running backs and Kirk Van Valkenburgh’s defense will need to be able to stop them.

-Michigan State was 2-5 in 2009 when opponents had a 100 or more rushing yards against them. FAU’s Morris is already off to a great start, running for 106 yards and a touchdown in the opener. If Morris and the Owl’s backfield can find production in Detroit, it will be good news.

-When starting quarterback Kirk Cousins throws an interception for the Spartans, the team is only 1-6 in the games. The Owls will need to force some turnovers to pull off the upset, and Cousins who averages an interception every 37 throws could be a place to start.

Final Word:

The last time FAU played a game at Ford Field, it was a 24-21 win over Central Michigan in the 2008 Motor City Bowl. The next season, the Chippewas upset Michigan State 29-27 in the second week of the season on the road. Fast forward to this year, and when the Owls travel to Detroit it will be a virtual home game for the Spartans, who only have to make a 90 mile drive from campus.  If the team can score early and create some turnovers, they might be able to catch the Spartans sleeping and upset their second Big Ten opponent.

As of Wednesday night, ticket purchases tallied 25k, but FAU is hopeful for a late surge. Considering that CMU brought 45k to Ford Field versus the Owls, and that they are further away than Lansing, it would be a shame for MSU fans to be shown up by a "lesser" state school.

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