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The Rivalry Is Watching You: MSU Linebacker Greg Jones v. Northwestern

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You all better treat this installment of Watching You with special care. I had to sit through the musings of Pam Ward to bring you this extensive look on Greg Jones. I mentioned to Law Buckeye the other day that sometimes I just don't believe people when they talk. When Pam Ward talks about a defensive scheme, I don't believe she knows what she's talking about. I think she's reading the notes her assistant typed up and that annoys the hell out of me.

I do believe that Greg Jones has been dynamite this year. He has been especially effective sideline to sideline, showing impressive speed and instinct. The Spartan run defense has followed Jones' example, giving up only 99 rush yards per game, third in the Big Ten. Of course teams have been able to throw all over the Spartans shaky secondary, but that's another matter. Enjoy this extensive play by play breakdown of Greg Jones versus Northwestern.

Ed note: This is going to be interesting because the Spread passing of Kafka and the Wildcats is a different challenge than Notre Dame, CMU, or U of M. Jones will, I assume be challenged by a heavy dose of crossing routes, short sit down routes, and the occasional draw.

First Possession, First Half

The Wildcats are pinned on the Spartan 1/2 yard line - Jones is the MLB. He will play OLB at the next level. After a QB sneak and a short completion, Kafka fires a bullet opposite side for a first down. On first down, Jones is sucked in by a draw fake while Kafka completes a short pass to Markshausen. GJ recovers quickly enough to make a tackle on the play. Incomplete pass, fumble, and the Wildcats have to punt.

But you see the magic of the Spread here. Even the quick, athletic Spartan linebackers don't match up well on short routes against the slippery Northwestern receivers who bear a strange resemblance to some of my intramural flag football teams from Miami OH.

Second Possession, 0-0

Option right and Junior Eric Gordon, who is a legitimate stud, makes a nice pursuit tackle on the option. 2nd and four, NW runs up the middle for the first time in the game only to be stuffed by Jerel Worthy. Jones was double teamed at his MLB spot. On third down, the Wildcats convert on a short pass to the middle of the field. It looks like the Wildcats are avoiding GJ so far. And just as I say that, backup NW quarterback Dan Persa eludes the rush and it looks like he might have some running room until Jones fights off a block and makes a great open field tackle. Gordon cleans up on the option again and it's third down. Jones blitzes for the first time ineffectively because of a quick Kafka release, first down. All you Spartans don't worry, I thought to myself, the NW line will break down as the game goes on.

The Wildcats run into a wall at midfield. After a stuffed QB draw and an eight yard completion, a third down screen is stuffed by Gordon and Chris L. Rucker. Jones had read screen and flowed to the ball also.

Third Possession, 0-0

A traditional off tackle run from shotgun opens up this series, but Decker and Jones clean up on Arby Fields. Two quarterback runs give NW a first down around midfield. Ah, finally an impact play by Jones. A swing pass to Brown and Jones moves fluidly towards the ball; a missed tackle by a Spartan CB allows GJ to clean up with a solid tackle, his third. End of the first quarter and I've only stabbed myself 21 times for each sentence spoken by Pam Ward.

2nd and 2 at midfield, Jonesy crowding the line and NW picks up the first down with an off tackle three yard run. Eric Gordon with his eighth tackle - maybe I spotlighted the wrong guy? Nope, I didn't; the NW Spread almost always results in mucho tackles for OLB's because it's an outside edge focused offense. On first and ten, GJ vacates middle to go with a veering WR and Kafka runs into the space that was left. 16 yard run, but not really Jones' fault, just a great run by Kakfa. Still, someone should have had contain. First and ten on the 30 - Jones run blitzes, stops the pitch and clamps down for his fourth tackle, this one for no gain. Textbook way to blitz and adapt. 2nd and ten, another Jones blitz and he hurries Kafka into the waiting arms of Gordon, who now has 9 tackles and a sack. Fourth and 15, punt time.

Fourth Possession, 0-0

Tired of just being on the Lombardi and Lott Award lists, Jones directs the drum line in a rousing rendition of "Hollaback Girl." On first down, Kafka zips a ball into Jones' vicinity for a 26 yard gain. Again, not really Jones' fault, just a weak zone coverage. Another GJ blitz but the quick swing pass negates any effectiveness. This is followed by a great across field throw by Kafka, who is something like 11-14, 120 yards by now.

First down and Jones drops into coverage, moving his hips well and running with a tight end on a Go route. Kafka throws elsewhere incomplete. After a lone line of completions to the sideline, Kafka finishes the drive with a touchdown pass.

This drive is a great example of Spread football - take on a team with superior athletes (Jones, Worthy, Anderson, Gordon) and stay completely away from those studs.

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Fifth Possession, 7-0 NW

As I predicted, the NW O-Line breaks down and Anderson breaks through for a 7 yard sack. Kafka finally throws into the soft zone for eight yards, 3rd and 9. Then comes a great play by Jones: He blitzes, gets cut down by a back, springs up, watches Kafka sprint past him, turns his hips and catches Kafka by the sideline, dragging him right through the chain gang and into the wall. Flags fly, but Jones smartly initiated contact in bounds and the refs decide not to penalize him for being a hard ass. Punt time, and Jones has his fifth tackle.

Sixth Possession, 7-0 NW

A couple of time killing runs and dump offs take us to half...

Seventh Possession, Second Half, 7-0 NW

Michigan State rolls up on of it's corners, probably a good idea considering Kafka has complete about 8 passes in front of backpedaling cornerbacks or soft outside zones. Jones is lined up as an OLB and Gordon cleans up the running back with a big shot. 2nd and 9, here's a wrinkle from Narduzzi - Jones as a left side DE. Jones throws in a spin move and gets his first QB hurry of the day - not surprisingly, Gordon cleans up again. 3rd and 7, GJ lined up as DE again, but a quick slant to Andrew Brewer gives the Wildcats a first down. On first, Drake Dunsmore (that's a name straight out of Gossip Girl) gets stripped by Rucker, Spartan ball.

Good to see Narduzzi tossing in the occasional changeup with Jones. GJ was looking bored against the sideline out routes and slants.

Eighth Possession, 7-7

Option right with Kafka and GJ holds his ground, spying Kafka nicely and forgetting about the pitch back. Kafka sees Jones spying him and reverses field, picking up 1 yard. A baby bump out of bounds draws one of the weakest personal foul penalties I can imagine. 1st and ten at midfield and Stephan Simmons runs outside right, only to get his clock cleaned by Jones after a two yard run. Good ol' fashioned smack right there, six tackles on the day. 2nd and eight, Jones trips on the blitz and gets pancaked blocked. 3rd and 8 and Kafka scrambles for five yard - I think Jones sat out that play, It's the first play he's taken off.

Punt time and Pam Ward shows a complete lack of football knowledge by chastising the Northwestern punter for a perfect punt that is fair caught at the MSU 13. In response, I mute the TV and toss the remote out the window, Ah, silence is golden.

Ninth Possession, 14-7 MSU

The Wildcats have Kafka in the shotgun in a one-back set. A pass is drilled between Gordon and GJ for a five yard gain - seven tackles on the day. 2nd and five, a delayed GJ blitz leads to an unimpeded sack.

3rd and long, here comes GJ on a blitz AGAIN. He pinballs off two blocks and is primed to sack Kafka when he's cut down from behind by a big lineman. Penalty declined, punt time. That's five straight stops by the Spartan defense.

Tenth Possession, 24-7 MSU

Great swing pass, but the Wildcats aren't going to make a comeback with 7 yard passes. Jones with a quarterback blitz, but an effective dump pass leads to a Wildcat first down. The refs miss an obvious hold and Kafka rushes outside left for a nine yard run. It's 2nd and one on the MSU 40, how will Narduzzi stem the onrushing Wildcats? A short run leads to a first down, but Jones is yards away. With a big lead, it seems that Jones is lined up 5 yards off the LOS and is playing a bit of a prevent pass coverage.

After a short completion, Kafka throws a beautiful lob for a 20 yard gain. It's first and ten on the MSU 16 - a Jones blitz leads to a false start, this is the second time a GJ blitz has led to a false start. 2nd and 15, GJ matches up with a superback and baits Kafka into an incompletion. Smart, smart play. Man to man across the board and Kafka completes a ball to everyone's favorite walk in, Zeke Marshausen. First and goal on the one and the Spartans make two stops, leading to a big third and goal. GJ blitz again and Markshausen catches a slant for TD.

Eleventh Possession, 24-14 MSU

Jones picks up a streaking WR in coverage and easily follows him. The 4-3 has been effective today against Northwestern, keeping a steady stream of pressure (three sacks), stuffing any inside runs, and allowing the zone coverage to halt any possible big plays. Brandon Denson and GJ follow a swing pass and stuff it for two yards. On second down, Trevor Anderson chases down a running back to cause third down. Another Jones blitz is mitigated by a quick slant for first down.

Jones goes back to DE and beats his man again with that ever present spin move. He gets his second quarterback hurry. Not satisfied, Jones blitzes from the MLB position, beats a double team with another spin move to get his third quarterback hurry. 3rd and long, no impact by Jones on the blitz, but it's 4th and long after an incomplete pass. Will they blitz GJ again? Yes and the quick out is two yards short. Turnover on downs.

(Jones also made two solo tackles on the final drive, which I was unable to watch because my DVR did not record it)

Conclusions, Statistics, Etc.

Greg Jones Stats: 14 tackles (9 solo, 5 assisted), 1 official quarterback hurry, 2 sacks, 1 pass breakup.

Positives of Greg Jones: Moves laterally unbelievably well. Obviously the defensive leader, instructing his teammates where to go. Loves the concept of hitting people, dragging ball carriers down, etc. When allowed to pin his ears back, GJ destroyed the offensive tackles with a simple spin move, causing havoc in the Wildcat backfield and leading to sacks - who knew he was such an effective pass rusher from the DE spot?

Conclusions: Because of the high number of plays that NW ran, the tackle totals are a bit inflated for Jones. But the sheer fact that he didn't miss any tackles speaks volumes to the solid presence he's been for the Spartans. I balked at calling GJ a "freakish athlete" early in the season, but the speed and high IQ make him pretty damn NFL ready.

Is he the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year so far? I say he's in the top five right now, along with Brian Rolle (OSU), O'Brien Schofield (UW), Adrien Clayborn (Iowa), and Josh Hull (PSU). Leading the Big Ten in tackles won't hurt, but the 30+ points allowed to Wisky, CMU, and ND won't help his case (even if it was mostly on the secondary).