ESPN analyst: MSU must punch ‘bully’ Alabama in mouth

DALLAS — Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN’s leading college football analyst who serves as the TV color commentator for Thursday’s semifinal game with MSU and Alabama, dropped by the media hotel Wednesday to give his thoughts on the matchup.

Herbstreit, who played quarterback at Ohio State, stays impartial on the air, but is an admittedly “Big Ten guy,” and he said he thinks the conference is slowly starting to change the national perception that it can’t compete with the top teams from the SEC.

“Michigan State and Ohio State winning last year helped that,” he said. “Some of the recent hires – Urban Meyer, Jim Harbaugh, James Franklin — they are helping to turn the tide in the right direction.”

As for MSU?

“(They are) for real,” he said. “People who follow Michigan State know about (Malik) McDowell, (Shilique) Calhoun, (Lawrence) Thomas, (Joel) Heath. I mean they’ve got really good, athletic guys. I think that’s the area they’ve probably improved the most the last four or five years. They would occasionally have a (William) Gholston, but they were usually more effort guys, like Marcus Rush. Now they’ve got guys who can take a game over.”

Herbstreit said he thinks MSU will be able to slow Henry by stacking the defense up front but that the key will be holding up in the secondary and surviving the deep shots from Jake Coker to Calvin Ridley.

“Malik McDowell is an animal on the inside,” he said. “I can’t wait to see him in this game and what he can do. If they can get Alabama to a 3rd and 6 (or longer), that’s the key to the game. If you get Jake Coker (to that position) they area like the 111th team in the country (in conversion).”

The other side of the ball is more problematic for MSU, Herbstreit said.

“(MSU has) experience on the offensive line, but I’ve been at these Alabama practices the last couple days, and I’ve called a number of Alabama games this year. Their strength, by far, is the defensive line. You’ve got three first-round guys, potentially, on the defensive line. You’ve got a middle linebacker who’s a first-round guy. They are big, physical athletic guys.

“With Michigan State, you’ve got (an offensive line) who has played a ton of football, but do they have the twitch, the quickness to be able to stay with Alabama?”

He said its crucial that MSU gets the ball out fast in the passing game and shows a lot of formations and motions to try to make Alabama’s defenders think and slow down.

Maybe most important to MSU’s chances, Herbstreit said, is to survive the psychological aspect of the matchup.

“When you play a team like Alabama that’s kind of a bully, they beat people mentally before they get in the game,” he said. “You’ve got to show them, ‘We’re here for 60 minutes.’ You have to punch them back. There has to be a little bit of an edge to you. That’s what Ohio State did.”

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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