MSU at Minnesota: Week 10, 2005

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Inside the Metrodome, the pre-game comparison between each teams’ emotion was terrifying. MSU head coach, John “ Lansing ” Smith, has talked continually all season after each loss how the Spartans have not had enough emotion. Well let me tell you something, to hell with emotion, this man and his staff are paid millions (among the best in the nation) and if they can’t have this team ready then the blame rests squarely on their shoulders. 

The time for excuses is over. This team has to win today here in Minneapolis , as well as next week against Penn State to even salvage the already disappointing win. Back to the pre-game emotion discussion I started earlier, I stood on the sidelines with 3 other colleagues and we all discussed the emotion and intensity of the Gophers and the lack thereof with the Spartans.

The Gophers come into this game, however, with a different predicament. Led by one of the finest coaches in the country, Glen Mason, they are lead by arguably the most ignorant administration. Fans and people nationally are baffled by the ignorance of an administration that fails to resign a willing coach who has done nothing but win and win right. He graduates players and is an incredible good will ambassador to a school that has shamefully left him out to dry. 

The Spartans are officially in a spiral and the season’s success rests on today’s game, and based on the pre-game, seemed more ready for a nap. Coach Smith’s job is secure with at least one win out of the next two. One win will not make this season a success, but it does save his job. Two losses does not guarantee a change, but places a shadow over his tenure. The Gophers took the opening drive against a pathetic MSU defense; 77 yards on 7 plays for a quick TD. The PAT was good and with 11:51 left in the 1st quarter it was the Gophers 7 and MSU 0! MSU missed 2 obvious assignments and the Gophers played without Maroney, yet the pre-game emotion I spoke of marched them right down the field. Maroney has an injured ankle and could play if the coaches feel he is readily needed.

Both teams exchanged the ball after 3 and outs. Stanton led the Spartans down the field when he got the ball back down to a 2nd and 10 at the Gopher 17. Facing a critical 3rd and 10, Stanton came out to a deafening thunder from the shotgun. Nothing came open so he dumped the ball to Trannon for 6 yards. Chips Ahoy came in the game for a 28-yard field goal and that was blocked. With 6:52 left in the 1st quarter, the Gophers had the ball at their own 19.

Once again the teams exchanged meaningless drives, but when MSU got the ball back, Stanton went to work. He drove the green 12 plays and 65 yards and Chips Ahoy (Matt Haughey) hit the first field goal of his career. It was a beautiful 31-yarder and with 13:37 left in the in 2nd quarter, the score was MSU 3 and the Gophers 7.

The Gophers quickly began to assume control, however, as with their next drive they marched down against the MSU defense and scored. The Gophers took the lead at 14-3, but what made it so painful was you could see the wind go completely out of the Spartan sails. On the next MSU drive they had drops and lack of concentration issues that clearly showed us a Spartan team that had quit. 

The Gophers decided to keep playing however, and they marched down the field 18 plays and 80 yards for the TD. With 1:41 left in the 2nd quarter it was MSU 3 and the Gophers 21. State was clearly dismantled, disheveled, and sadly disinterested.

MSU was able to march and get Chips Ahoy an opportunity to kick a field goal as time expired in the 1st half, but it was blocked, fittingly, and the half ended with the score MSU 3 and University of Minnesota 21.

The Spartans took the ball to begin the 2nd half and marched as far as the Gopher 29. Facing a critical 4th and 3, they went for it, got it, and kept the drive alive. The Spartans got to the 18, but a holding penalty put them back at the 28 with a 2nd and 18. On the next play, the Spartans picked up yet another holding penalty facing now a 2nd and 28 at the 38. On the next play Javon Ringer (clearly having not quit) looked like Barry Sanders and ran all over the field eventually losing 7. Facing a 3rd and 35 at the 45, Stanton and his depleted teammates could do nothing, and the Spartans had to punt. Demonstrating great special teams coaching (something lacking at MSU this year) the Gophs let the ball hit inside the 10 and it rolled into the end zone. With 10:31 left in the 3rd quarter, the Gophs had the ball at their own 20 and a 21-3 lead. 

The Gophers next drive demonstrated clearly to all present and around the country watching on TV what was wrong. On a 3rd and long, MSU jumped off sides so the Gophers QB Bryan Cupito took the free play and went for the end zone fade for the TD. Ashton Watson got flagged for holding in the end zone, but that didn’t matter, he had the ball and the TD. The PAT was good and with 3:12 left in the 3rd quarter and the score was Minnesota 28, MSU 3.

When MSU got the ball back, Stanton literally willed his team into the end zone. He led them on a 91-yard drive that he culminated with a 21-yard TD strike to Holmes. The PAT was good and with 14:30 in the 4th quarter left, the score was MSU 10 and Minnesota 28.

The Gophers, however, would not take the MSU score lying down. Cupito led his Gophers right back down the field and the Gophers punched the ball in for the TD. Peko blocked the PAT, and the Gophers again put it to the Spartans with a 34-10 lead.

At this time, it is probably wiser for me to stop reporting on the progress or shall we say lack of progress and spend some time commenting about the condition of MSU football.

Even though at the time of writing this (10:26 in the 4th quarter), the game is not officially over, we realize that it is. So the best that this season can produce is a 6-5 season. Many feel (myself included) that it will be 5-6, the same as last year. We cannot allow this to become a personal assault on John L. Smith. That would be unfair and frankly not relevant. He is a good man. However at the same time, it would be foolish of us to not evaluate the program.

If we finish 6-5, that would be minimal, and I emphasis minimal progress. With that I think that we need to look closely at the program. However, if we lose than we have to look and see what direction we are going and make a decision. Back to back 5-6 seasons is not progress and is unacceptable. I realize that I will take enormous criticism for this, but this coaching staff is making far too much money for that amount of leeway. You may ask: What does money have to do with it? Simple with higher cost comes greater expectation. There is nothing wrong with the media and, more importantly, the fans demanding a return on the investment that they make. The money, generated from the athletic department, funds this football program, not the students tuition or money from the library. This program has huge expense with the $60 million in expansion, the PSL (personal seat licenses) and rising ticket, parking and food costs. The faithful Spartan Nation fans deserve this program to give it a return on investment. This season has produced at best MAC results and at worst junior college. 

If we lose both games, do we gamble that next year will turn it around? If we stay the course, what happens next year with the loss of some key seniors and what is looking to be a questionable recruiting class at best?

I am not advocating at this time a change in the head coach. This week, however, the picture should be crystal clear. I will make my end of season overview after the season. This week John L. needs to show us why we stay the course. 

Ron Mason needs to understand, and sadly I just don’t think he does, that his legacy is at stake as much as anyone. He may not like the media asking questions, but he should hear the fans. I was talking with members of the media after this game and one thing is certain, the fans are much harder than the media on this program. We discussed the fact that many of the fans have come down on us for being “soft” on Smith and Mason. There is nothing wrong with confidence, but one thing is certain, arrogance turns away the fans that are on the ship still. Keep this is mind fans; we all need to watch this week before we set an opinion on the future.

By the way, the final score was 41-18, if the final score really mattered.

Grades:

Offense: D

Defense: F (what defense?)

Special Teams: D

Coaching: F once again a failed job by this staff.