For Success Under the Lights on Saturday, Spartan Football Needs to Better Utilize Their Impressive Tight End Group!

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As the Spartans season progresses you can’t help but be impressed with the way this team has responded with a disappointing 1-3 start. On Saturday, the Spartans will take on a top ten and undefeated Iowa team that stands in the way of reaching two of their biggest goals of the season that Mark Dantonio talked about earlier in the year.


Dantonio said that two of this season’s goals were to show up in the big games and to win a Big Ten title. Beating Iowa would certainly take care of the first, and with a win, they still could fulfill the second. The Spartans have been successful, and certainly, if you look to address the three game skid from the first third of the season, offense wouldn’t be the main culprit.


With that said, the offense will have to enhance one critical aspect to its game to reach their goals that they stand to make a major leap at in 2009. The Spartan defense had to address the underutilized TE position. I asked Kirk Cousins about the lack of production of the tight ends on Saturday and he told me, “I don’t think we used them enough on Saturday against Northwestern.” 


I had asked Dantonio about the lack of productivity with his teams deepest position of strength (TE) and he didn’t seem as concerned. “It has a lot to do with reads.” I agree with him, the TE positions amount of receptions are low because they have not been early in the QB read priority list. 


Without exactly saying it, Dantonio made my point. They haven’t been early in the QB reads, because they haven’t called plays for them. It is hard to make a fourth or fifth read when that player isn’t called.


The Spartans have to utilize the passing game that the deep TEs bring to the table and at this point they haven’t. The Spartans can��€™t win a Big Ten title or reach the other goals when they underutilized them from the game plan. With all the depth on this team at that position, to have only one reception from that position last week is unfathomable.


Using the TE opens up the edge for the running game. It also keeps defenses guessing when they consider rolling the dice on particular blitzes without having to compensate for that legitimate threat.   


You can say that this is being overly critical, but to exceed at an elite level (that is where Coach Dantonio has set the goals of this program) you can’t underutilized not only your deepest position, but allow teams to not at least compensate for chance of the threat.


Let’s look at Iowa. Their TE Tony Moeaki forces teams to account for him. When was the last time a team played MSU this season and they had to take into account the TE? 


After Montana State. I know for a fact that CMU’s plan was to stop the Spartans run. They were terrified that the Spartans would kill them with the TE. They were shocked that MSU didn’t hit them in the short/intermediate range with the TEs that they have. We all know that MSU didn’t and suffered a stunning loss.  


Let me make a frank point. I think Don Treadwell has done a great job with the Spartan offense this season. That doesn’t mean it can’t be, and to reach their self-stated goals, must be, better.


Against Illinois, the Spartans had thirteen receptions and three of those went to TEs. Here is an even more amazing fact, they averaged nearly 22 yards a catch. All three were for over 20 yards as stand alone catches.


The Spartans had four TE receptions against Michigan, all for big gains. Against Wisconsin the Spartans had 24 receptions, five of which went to the TEs. 


I am not implying that the staff has ignored that position, but I do feel they are underutilized. I understand that there are only so many balls and certainly a Blair White must get his touches, but I go back to a conversation that I had with Jim Tressel and apply it to the Spartans use of the TE.


I asked him what was a key to his success and he told me, “You have to chart your tendencies. Teams are all smart now, and they all have film and watch it. You have to be careful to watch what you do so you don’t become predictable.”


I will have more in my Friday scouting report and prediction, but the Spartans are a power team. We know that. I like that. Teams, however, (especially Iowa) are going to load the box to stop that tendency. They have all seen what the three teams that beat us did. They will make MSU go to the air. Knowing that the Spartans have a very good aerial attack and the Hawkeyes have an excellent aerial defense, the TEs will be critical in this game. Using them in quick strike (slant) situations and using them more to spread the field will help the Spartans running attack at the same time getting the ball in the hands of your most prolific playmakers.


I am glad that the Spartans TEs are good at blocking. I want them to block. I also know that before the Illinois game Coach Roushar agreed with me that this team has had its best success using the pass to open up the run and not the vice versa approach that we so often see.


The Spartans can win on Saturday. The Hawkeyes are very good, but they are not invincible. They will, however, need their best athletes and all positions. The Spartans need to chart their tendencies; they need to force the Hawkeyes out of their game plan. More utilization of the TE can and would do that. Part of football is forcing your opponent out of their game plan.  Iowa’s game plan is already known. They will load the box forcing MSU to go away from the running game. 


I knew the CMU game plan heading into the MSU game. The Spartans didn’t make them change from it at all. Iowa is better than CMU and if the Spartans don’t force them out of their game plan the results will be similar.


The TE is arguable this team’s deepest and best position. It has everything from the super stud freshman in Dion Sims to the exciting Garrett Celek. Combine those two with Charlie Gantt and Brian Linthicum and the Spartans have an arsenal of talent. An arsenal that can be tapped for a lot more productivity than it has delivered. An arsenal that can help a Spartan team that had a disappointing start reach the goals that only 20 days ago many thought were unattainable.