September 7, 2012

Hot 11: Le'Veon Legend

EAST LANSING -'s choices for the "Hot 11" Michigan State players from MSU's 17-13 victory over Boise State last weekend.

1. Le'Veon Bell A no-brainer pick. He was great as a running back, great as a short-area receiver, great in pass protection. His 210 yards rushing is tied for 23rd on the school's all-time single game list. His 265 all-purpose yards marked the 10th-highest in single-game school history. All that, and he carried the team on the last two drives, scoring the game-winning TD and melting the clock in the final minutes. It was a legendary performance for Le'Veon.

2. Dion Sims: He rose to the occasion as a go-to player, against Boise State, with seven catches for 65 yards. He was terrific as a third-down target, and hauled in a clutch, difficult 18-yarder on third-and-6 during the go-ahead TD drive. ... His blocking was excellent most of the day, including a seal of the MLB during Bell's hurdling 23-yard run, and a very-good drive block on the play-side DE during Bell's go-ahead TD run. ... However, Sims allowed movement during MSU's fourth-down stoppage. His problem on that play led to a chain of events which halted Bell short of first-down yardage.

3. Max Bullough: The junior MLB led Michigan State with seven tackles, plus countless contributions in getting the front set against Boise's shifts and occasional unbalanced looks. ... Biggest moment: When he stopped the RB for a loss of 2 at the 38-yard line on second-and-9 with 4:30 left in the third quarter. That stifled Boise's deepest penetration into MSU territory in the second half and stalled the drive. The fact that Bullough secured a TFL on a play without blitzing was remarkable. He simply read the play out of the pistol formation in an instant and pressed his gap immediately.

4. Denicos Allen: The junior Sam linebacker had modest stats, with three tackles and a fumble recovery. But he was an absolute rock as a point-of-attack force defender. He was tremendous in getting low and physical when taking on offensive linemen on the fly, and almost always won his collisions, or at least created a stalemate logjam. Example: On a stretch play to his side in the second quarter, he took on a pulling guard, went low and drove the guard back into the backfield, paving the way for Bullough to make a tackle for no gain. He did that all night ... He had a QB pressure as part of a blitz on first-and-goal on the first play after Johnny Adams was beaten deep. The QB got rid of it quick. That was a tone-setter for the rest of the series.

5. Darqueze Dennard: cut off route runners on all Boise trick plays, including two straight at the beginning of the second quarter when Boise tried to pick on him right after Dennard had been taken off the field due to an undisclosed injury. He blanketed Boise's top WR, Matt Miller, both times ... Great coverage and pass break-up on third-and-10 in the fourth quarter, forcing a punt, which led to the game-winning TD drive ... He was targeted for two straight deep routes on Boise's last drive. He was called for pass interference once, and was beaten by a step on the second, but it fell incomplete. He came back strong with a pass break-up on fourth-and-two, which turned out to be Boise's last offensive snap of the night. ... Oh by the way, Dennard had five tackles too, tied for third-best on the team.

6. Micajah Reynolds: The junior defensive tackle was tremendous in the first quarter, enjoying his first start as a Spartan. He tapered off a bit as the game wore on, but his strong start was a positive sign for MSU at his position for the rest of the year. His back-up, Tyler Hoover, was also excellent ... Reynolds was strong and quick in the first half. MSU used his quickness on the first play of the game when he slanted from the A to the B gap as part of a stunt. Reynolds out-quicked the left guard, paving the way for Bullough to get a tackle for loss ... He was good and solid vs a double-team on a second-and-10 power in his direction midway through the second quarter. He recognized it, got sideways into the two players, worked the tripod, held the point. Allen went low and took out the pull guard and Bullough made the tackle for a gain of 4 on a very good football play by both teams ... On the first play of the second half, he took on a guard/tackle double-team, withstood it, held the point, disengaged and made the tackle on a gain of 1 on a strong-side power in his direction. Grown man play. ... Reynolds finished with two tackles.

7. Isaiah Lewis: The junior strong safety turned in one of the key plays of the game when he deflected a pass inside the 10-yard line, resulting in an interception by R.J. Williamson[/db]. Lewis said afterward he knew a slant route was coming, based on the personnel and the formation. He positioned himself perfectly, anticipated the action as part of an 8-man coverage and got a hand on the ball. Huge play in the game ... Lewis finished with 3 tackles including half a TFL along with Bullough.

8. Isaiah Lewis: In his first career start, Jones ranked second on the team with six tackles. He played tough and smart, especially in run support. On the first play after Dan Conroy's missed field goal, he helped stuff a toss sweep for no gain by shedding a crackback block and making the initial hit the RB, three yards behind the line of scrimmage. He didn't get the wrap for the tackle, but he messed everything else up for Boise on that play. ... He also supported the run well on second-and-goal at the 4 on a run play to the unbalanced side ... Great play on a jet sweep to Boise's little flanker, the fastest player on their team. Jones pressed upfield while maintaining gap integrity, got to the correct side the blocking back, and then got off of that block to make the tackle. He should get three helmet stickers on that play alone for doing three things real well. ... Jones was targeted by Boise on a deep pass on the Broncos' third-to-last play of the game. They wanted to test Jones' wheels late in the contest, and they beat him by a step or two but the QB missed the WR deep.

9. Johnny Adams: Adams gave up one deep ball, which resulted in a Boise field goal. Adams slipped a bit when turning and running with the WR. Adams closed most of the distance, but the QB dropped a perfect pass in the bucket at the 4-yard line. Aside from that, Adams was great and should probably be in the top four on this list. He had five tackles, one TFL ... He was excellent in coverage most of the night, and terrific in run support, especially on a draw play at the end of the first quarter when he exploded into the ball carrier. ... He hurdled a blocker and stuffed a bubble screen to his side for a gain of 1, and then had a TFL on the next play as part of a run blitz on a delay draw, stifling a drive early in the fourth quarter.

10. Andrew Maxwell: He had one bad interception. Another interception - the screen attempt to Larry Caper which was returned for a pick-six - probably should have been thrown at Caper's feet for an incompletion due to a blitz pick-up error by right guard Chris McDonald. Maxwell held it together, played with poise and leadership during tense moments. He reduced the game to its simplest terms, managed the run game, found the tight end in crucial situations and helped MSU go 10-of-19 on third down ... His first interception, the one dropped by Tony Lippett, was one of the best passes thrown by either QB all night. ... Maxwell was 22 of 38 for 248 yards. He would have been 23 of 38 for about 275, and a fresh set of downs, if Lippett had held onto that one. Those are good figures, and none of them are padded by spread fluff. He earned those 22 completions. There is a lot to grow on here. He needs to get back to his August groove of throwing it away in unfavorable situations and relying on his punt team and defense when applicable. He'll learn. It was a pretty good game for his first start, and a pretty great learning experience.

11. Travis Jackson: All of the MSU offensive linemen had their share of excellent plays, yet all of them had negative plays as well. Jackson had the fewest and least-expensive negative plays. There was a time or two when Jackson gave up a little penetration to Boise's tough nose guard, Mike Atkinson, but Jackson won the majority of those key head-to-head battles against Boise's best, most experienced front seven player. ... MSU rushed for 213 yards, and although Bell gained a lot of them after contact, the Spartan o-line was pretty sturdy as a unit on a regular, reliable basis. ... Credit Jackson with two excellent blocks during the clock-melting clock at the end, both on first-and-10 runs. On one, Jackson crossed the face of the nose tackle, controlled the gap and allowed Bell to find daylight from there for a gain of 7. Two snaps later, Jackson sealed the nose while Nike Palazeti put a good lead block on the OLB and Fou Fonoti got movement on a down block to give Bell room for another first-down gain of 7.

Honorable Mention: William Gholston, Tyler Hoover, Chris Norman, R.J. Williamson, Jack Allen.

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