As I sat in my hotel room, I kept replaying the Spartans blowout loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide. I don't hide it; I make no apologies that I support Mark Dantonio and his staff at MSU.They have done a great job.I also agreed with him when he stated that he and his staff were, Outcoached.They were.
It is important and critical to the rebuilding process that Mark Dantonio establish a power football identity.This program really lacked it before he arrived.Years of institutional in fighting and politics had destroyed the entire program and he had to rebuild it brick by brick.
He has brought toughness and identity back to East Lansing.He has laid the gauntlet down saying prior to the season and after an amazing 11-1 campaign that, "We have talked about it enough.It is time that we win one of these bowl games."
I said prior to this season that the Spartans would be much improved.His best team yet.Both of those statements were fact.I also said that, "They would not be Big Ten Champions, and I was wrong"This team (now making it three of his four teams while the head coach at MSU) overachieved and proved me wrong.Nothing makes me happier.The MVP of this teams amazing 11-1 regular season was Dantonio and his leadership.
That doesn't excuse Coach Dantonio and his staff for the blowout loss down in Orlando.Prior to the game Dantonio said, "We will find out whether we're one of the elite teams in the country or not. ¦I do believe Alabama is.He was right.MSU is not, and when Alabama is fully healthy, they can beat anyone.
I love the power running and attacking defensive identity that the Spartans have.When you are playing a Northern Colorado, CMU, Minnesota or Indiana there is nothing wrong with making them adjust to you.You are a superior talented team and football is a game of brute force trauma.When you then in turn play a superior team as the Spartans were playing Saturday, you have to adjust.
The Spartans were playing a better Bama team.No doubt.They also had no business being humiliated and their coaches contributed to them being in that spot.Let me explain on offense first.Here is what I wrote in my pre-game scouting report and prediction:
Alabama is going to attack Cousins. They are going to stack the box and bring blitzers from all over. They will use that pressure to stop the run and consequently get pressure on Cousins.
There is no problem with that, unless MSU is too stubborn with the run. Yesterday, Saban said it best about MSU, "They are stubborn and will keep trying to establish the run." If MSU does that, they will start slow. I look for MSU to pull out all the stops and come out with a lot of passes, short and mid range, and then try to go down the field. At the end of the game, the Spartans will have the balance they covet, but it starts in the air for the Spartans.
I know for a fact having talked with folks from Bama and who cover Bama that they were concerned about the Spartans going to the air.Saban countered some on his staff by telling them what he said in the above quote before the game that he thought the MSU stubbornness to run has hurt them at times.Saban felt that MSU had stuck with the run only to open it up late to get wins.He was convinced his Tide team could stop the Spartans and crush Cousins because of that stubbornness and if they did change, it would be too late.Saban was right.I don't like him personally, but he is a genius with the X's and O's of the game and studying more the coaches he faces and their tendencies than anything else.
In the last three seasons at Alabama, the teams that have beaten them and given them trouble are those that have used the pass to establish the run.When MSU did open it up early with the passing game they quickly faced a second and fifteen and ran again.It was a terrible call.Cousins should have read the stacking of the box and audibled out of the play.
If you remember last year there were issues with Cousins not being able to audible out of plays per the staff so I asked him about it after the game. "We have our checks built in where we'll call two plays in the huddle. If I get the right front, I'll check the play. It just varies from play to play. We're a program that has to establish a run. That's when we're working best is when we can get the running game going. You can't just drop back allow the Alabama defense to just pin their ears back every play. You have to be on the attack and allow the offensive line to force it on them as opposed to just absorbing it. You have to try to establish a run game, and obviously we weren't able to do that at the level we wanted to."
In fairness I didn't expect Cousins to call out the staff.It wouldn't have been appropriate and he shouldn't have, but his comments tell us a lot. I agree that they can't let Bama pin their ears back.That is why a failure to use draw plays and slants was mind-boggling.Anyone who has been around football for any amount of time understands that you use the quick slant and draws to off set a team whose ears are back.The Spartans attempted it; it worked and then they quickly went away from it.
Alabama's Kirby Smart like many of the Spartan opponents this year was concerned that if MSU utilized their tight ends that his team would be forced to back off his attacking style.Â MSU had very limited success because they didn't stick with it.They played right into the hands of the Tide.
The Spartans didn't use the slant, the draw, the tight ends or go to a shotgun formation to buy time.The passing attack when quick and accurate moved the Spartans early, but when you call a five or seven step drop and the Tide are on your QB by the three and a half step mark, then you start calling the three step and gun plays that make them back off.
D.J. Young and J. Michael Deane are both great young men, but were exposed by the Tide DL and with each five and seven step drops, the Spartans coaches continued to put Cousins in a can't win spot.
Who knows if MSU would have won, but I sure know the staff didn't give the kids the best chance to win.They allowed Bama to bring the fight to them and rather than punching back and attacking them at weak points they called the game like a deer in the headlights and this staff was outcoached.
On the defensive side you saw early mistakes by the players.Narduzzi called some very good defensive plays in the first quarter, and the failure of the Spartans to execute and make tackles at the point of attack is not his fault.He couldn't keep CLR from holding a jersey or guys from missing tackles.
When you watched Johnny Adams and Marcus Hyde getting run over and passed by bigger and better athletes that is about talent.Hyde and Adams are great kids, but their size was exposed in the case of Adam's and talent with Hyde.How many failed tackles by many on the defense we accredited by a problem I have called out all season:poor technique?I still think there are Spartans lining on the stadium turf in Orlando right now that went for the Sportscenter hit rather than the boring textbook wrap up and take down learned in pee wee ball.
I know for a fact that Alabama was concerned that MSU would stop sending Greg Jones out in pass coverage, something they had done all season.A weakness in his game that many NFL scouts I have talked with think could take him out of the first round.One member of the Bama program told me prior to the game, Greg Jones is the best pass rusher in the nation.I just don't see it any other way that they don't have him coming on every play.I heard that not only from a person who is part of the program, but their media also on my radio show.
Those comments (and frankly I agreed with them) prompted me to write prior to the game in my scouting report and prediction, The Spartans have to do the same thing that Alabama does. They need to attack and come with pressure from all over the field. Ingram, Richardson, Jones, and the Tide athletes will make plays. That is OK. They just need to keep coming. I would NEVER use Greg Jones in pass coverage. I would have him all night coming from all over the field. He should treat McElroy the Tide QB like a prom date and just be all over him, all game. They have to disguise where he is. Sometimes from the middle. Some from the outside, some from a down lineman position.
When I saw an inability of the Spartans to get pressure and Greg Jones was in pass coverage, I knew that the game was over.
Instilling your will on an opponent is an important part of football.When facing a superior opponent, the game of physicality and brawn becomes more a chess match and that is when coaches are so critical.
Mark Dantonio is a very good coach.His guys were wide eye just like the first time two years ago when the played Penn State at Penn State for the Big Ten Title and got crushed.This year you saw the team grow up and win that game in Happy Valley.
The Spartans will respond from this.I am more proud, confident and supportive of Dantonio then ever.I am disappointed in this game, but his staff has to learn.They don't have the experience that he had at OSU and they are still learning.
This game will hurt for seven months until next season starts.It will linger in the spring and can only be erased on the field and not in spring scrimmages.It will be a great and exciting spring, but the bitter taste will linger.
This program is solid.Sadly there will be many who will negate the success of the first four Dantonio seasons with this loss.It was bad.The thing you must remember is that they have come so far that for the third time in four seasons they far overachieved and found themselves in a bowl against a much more talented team.Both times, they found themselves matched with a pre-season number one team that was finally healthy.A recipe for disaster.
There is a lot to celebrate.There is a lot to be excited about and you know that I will talk about those things.I just couldn't go on to so many things to celebrate without calling the Capital One Bowl as I saw it.
I am proud of these young men.I am proud of Coach Dantonio and this staff.They were not at their best against Alabama.Two years ago I wrote almost the same thing against a Penn State team when they had a similar experience.I said then that they would be back and win a Big Ten title exercising that loss.
The same is true today Spartan Nation.MSU had no business being in that bowl against that Alabama team.They were there because of the leadership of Mark Dantonio.They will be back.They will win it.Alabama is on future schedules and the Spartans aren't going anywhere.They could very easily be back here next year.
Everyone has days like the Spartans did.It is unfair to expect coaches to be perfect when no one is.What you can expect is that they learn from it, and what I know is that MSU is not as bad as they looked. 11-2?I will take that.It doesn't change the emotion of the day, but just like I told you two years ago after a dismantling by PSU.MSU and Mark Dantonio will be back.Be disappointed.Be upset.The team and coaches are disappointed.Remember how badly this hurts.It makes the wins that much more enjoyable because redemption is coming.This MSU team and staff are resilient.