EAST LANSING - Look for an old-fashioned slugfest when Michigan State plays host to the University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers on Saturday at 12:00 noon in Spartans Stadium.
Two very tough-minded first-year coaches are preparing their team for a tough physical contest. Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio talked about UAB head coach Neil Callaway's background as an offensive line coach who's won three SEC championship with Alabama, Auburn and Georgia as an assistant and is now at the helm for the first time with the Blazers.
"The offensive line coaches that I've known throughout my coaching career are always going to preach toughness, they're always going to preach discipline and attention to detail, and I think that's exactly what you're going to see from UAB beginning with this first game," said Dantonio
On the other side, coach Callaway, who played football for Paul "Bear" Bryant in the 70s and was recruited by former Auburn coach Pat Dye, talked about what he expects from Michigan State and how UAB plans to defend the Spartans.
"I think they're a big, strong, physical football team, especially upfront offensively," said Callaway. "I'm sure they'll be a hard-nosed, run-the-ball, play-action pass kind of football team that softens you up with the run then try to get your secondary coming up and throw it over your head."
Callway especially noted that under Cincinnati, Dantonio and offensive coordinator Don Treadwell liked to pound the football at opponents and now, they have a stable of four solid running backs to alternate against the Blazers, starting with Javon Ringer, backup Jehuu Caulcrick, A.J. Jimmerson and freshman Andre Anderson, who is also expected to get some playing time.
"We're going to do somethings obviously, to try to help ourselves and slow them down," said Callaway of the MSU running attack. "I do think they are physical running backs and you throw those two guys (Ringer and Caulcrick) in there with that offensive line and they're going to be able to create some problems for you. We're going to try to do somethings different to try to help us a little bit to handle those two guys."
MSU's big, physical offensive line, Callaway believes is the key to what they will do offensively. "We are very impressed with the way that they coach football, they did an outstanding job at Cincinnati. Then also transferring over to look at the personnel at Michigan State. I think they're a big, strong, physical football team, especially upfront offensively."
State will line up Pete Clifford, Kenny Shane, John Masters, Roland Martin and Jesse Miller across the front. Senior Mike Gyetvai is still recovering from offseason surgery. The Spartans will also make good use of tight end Kellen Davis.
Behind the starters there isn't much experience for MSU but look for junior Mike Bacon who recently became a scholarship player for MSU after starting his career as a walk-on to be in the playing rotation.
For UAB, they have only 67 scholarship players and several are new to the program. Look for as many as seven freshman to play and perhaps as many as four to start for the Blazers.
Two of those redshirt freshmen expected to make an impact are linebacker B.J. Steed, from Sioux City, IA and defensive end Bryant Turner from Daphne, AL.
Look for Michigan State to stubbornly look to establish the run and allow senior Brian Hoyer to look for opportunities to find tight end Kellen Davis behind the linebackers in the passing game.
UAB will try some different looks and could trot out extra linebackers in sort of a hybrid three-four look to try to slow MSU's run attack. Coach Neil Callaway has already stated he has something up his sleeve and is aware of MSU threat of play action.
This game will likely unfold the way you'd expect a game between first year coaches who've learned the game from some of the legendary coaches of the past, a run-first slugfest where penalties and turnovers will play a large role in the outcome.
Still, look for Michigan State's big offensive line to come up big against UAB undersize and undermanned unit.
NEXT: UAB's Two-Headed QB attack could cause problems.
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