December 28, 2009

Dantonio 'impressed' with Texas Tech interim head

SAN ANTONIO - When Michigan State's players and coaches arrived at the site of the Valero Alamo Bowl on Sunday, Spartan head coach Mark Dantonio met with media spoke more about the underrated aspects of MSU's opponent than the known quantity of the Red Raiders' passing attack.

"I have been very impressed with their defense which has a lot to do with their coordinator," Dantonio said Sunday in San Antonio during his opening comments.

Ruffin McNeill is said coordinator.

Dantonio made those statements the day before Texas Tech announced that McNeil would be taking over as interim coach in the wake of the suspension of Mike Leach.

Texas Tech suspended Leach today while the school investigates complaints from Texas Tech receiver Adam James and his family concerning the coach's treatment of James after a concussion.

James is the son of former NFL player and current television analyst Craig James.

The player reportedly sustained the concussion during a bowl practice on Dec. 16.

As for McNeill, he has helped transform what used to be a soft, hapless defense earlier in the decade into a solid, major conference unit. Texas Tech ranked tied for fourth in the Big XII in scoring defense this year.

McNeill's defense was tied for sixth in the Big XII in yards allowed per rush at 3.3.

McNeill has been a part of Leach's staff at Texas Tech for 10 years. He became defensive coordinator following the third game of the 2007 season, replacing Lyle Setencich. Setencich stepped down due to "personal reasons" after Texas Tech allowed more than 600 yards and three 100-yard rushers in a 49-45 loss to Oklahoma State.

McNeill has brought steady improvement to the Texas Tech defense over the last two-plus seasons.

Tech's base defense is a two-deep, quarters zone scheme, behind a standard 4-3, similar to MSU's structure. Unlike MSU, Texas Tech will bail its cornerbacks 4 to 7 yards off the line of scrimmage while playing zone, rather than pressing.

Like MSU, Texas Tech will mix in some man-to-man. But their base is quarters zone.

Unlike MSU, the Red Raiders have managed to pressure the quarterback with a standard four-man rush, rather than having to commit to blitzes and pressures. Tech ranks No. 2 in the nation in sacks with 39.

Tech has also contained the run with a standard front seven rather than having to deploy a safety in the box as part of an eight-man front

"When you look at them across the board they can do very many things very very well," Dantonio said. "They come to play and play with a lot of excitement."

Dantonio says some underrated aspects of the Red Raiders spill over to offense as well.

"As much as Tech passes, they also have a good running game," Dantonio said. "We have got to stop the run and contain their perimeter game as well because of all of their screens to complement their running game. It will start up front and we will need to control up front and we have to find a way to get off the field since they are very good on fourth down."

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