Improving Spartans Not As Good As We Thought!

Publish date:

Spartan Stadium

East Lansing, MI

With perfect weather the Michigan State Spartans came into this game with all of the off season expectations and goals still ahead of them, still viable, and still within their control. Ranked #20 in the nation, MSU needed to make a statement.

They didn’t. They played better, but they were hindered by mistakes and lost a 17-16 contest in the Big Ten opener. It wasn’t pretty.

The MSU defense was valiant most of the day, but facing the best QB they have seen all year in Braxton Miller, they couldn’t stop him at the end. Miller ran for 136 yards and passed for 179. When he got the ball back for the last drive of the game he didn’t give it back.

OSU head coach Urban Meyer said of that OSU final drive, "I think every coach wants that. And against that front, when they knew it was just take the ball and end the game like that, that tells you a lot. I didn't know if we could do that. I thought our defense could play; did I think we could line up and just knock guys and make holes and guys run through tackles like Carlos did? ... To say that I knew we could that do that, if I knew we'd do that, we would have done that earlier in the game too.”

Dantonio said of the final OSU drive, "It's tough to say without watching the film but you have to close on that dive play. The quarterback is a threat to carry every time. We have to be a little stronger on the point of attack. I thought (Carlos) Hyde slipped out and got four or five yards when we had him for no gain. I thought our defense played hard and played very well with the exception of about three series. One long touchdown pass, their first series and the last series. We have to get the ball and get our offense back on the field there."

Miller took the opening drive 75 yards and marched right down the field for the score. He also took the opening drive of the second half promptly down the field 66 yards for a field goal, scoring 10 of Ohio State’s 17 points in the first drive of both halves. Not good.

MSU DC Pat Narduzzi had high praise for the Buckeye signal caller. "I think we said earlier in the week, he's a great quarterback, he can run the ball, and we just didn't make enough plays on him. He does a great job running the ball. He is their offense. He made plays and we didn't make plays at times. We had him in the back field a few times and he scrambled. Coach Dantonio talks about loose plays and he had some loose plays; we didn't make enough. “

Narduzzi went on to add, "He's a good football player. Give them a lot of credit. We knew they could run the ball. They run the ball against everybody they've played. We'll look at the tape and find out why but he's a good football player. Number five changed the game."

The Spartans lost C Travis Jackson to a ripped MCL and a broken leg. A monster loss, but not the reason MSU lost. It was evident to anyone that watches football that the Buckeyes were going to sell out to stop the run and until the Spartans forced them with aerial success to stop, running was a dream.

This is a turning point of the year. This not only sends MSU out of the top 25, but it forces MSU to make a long hard evaluation of themselves. This film will haunt coaches, players, and fans alike for years. No offense to OSU, they played better, but MSU let a win sneak out of Spartan Stadium with the wrong team.

Costly mistakes.

No one player cost MSU the win against the Buckeyes, but there were several mistakes that hurt them and any one of them could have given them a win.

Fifth year senior CB Dan Conroy in perfect conditions missed a 42-yard field goal. He has missed kicks in every game and I have said numerous times that his inconsistency would cost MSU a game. Again, the Spartans had other chances to win, but if Conroy nailed (in perfect conditions) that 42-yarder today the Spartan Nation is celebrating instead of lamenting. You have to ask out of your older players a higher standard and Conroy is struggling in inexplicable moments. He made three other field goals. Right now his struggling is mental and certainly not a talent issue.

Senior All American Johnny Adams got beat deep. There is nothing else you can say about it. OSU has players on scholarship who are talented and they beat him. Football is a game built on imperfection and it is unfair to ask perfection of anyone. On a play that he got beat, the OSU signal caller Braxton Miller also made a perfect pass. A lethal combination.

Narduzzi’s defense only gave up 17 points, but they had a litany of issues and he couldn’t hold back his frustration. “We left too many plays on the field; whether it was down on the ten yard line coming out one time when we got him dead to right in the back field, we don't make the play, and he scrambles and there's linemen down field, he throws a pass... I could probably pick 15 plays when we didn't make a play early in the game. We should've had a pick six; we got three but we could have got three or four more. We just didn't make enough plays.”

A failed picked six cost the Spartans. R.J. Williamson cut in front of a Braxton Miller ill-advised first half pass and had nothing but open real estate ahead of him for a TD. He dropped it. Narduzzi admitted, “We should've had a pick six,” and he’s right.

Kurtis Drummond and Chris Norman each forced a turnover; Drummond’s an interception and Norman’s a fumble recovery.  The offense failed to do anything with Drummond’s and Conroy’s missed field goal was off the Norman recovery.

The biggest mistake of the day was by a referee. No, I am not talking about the former NFL replacements. The Spartans were down 17-13. When Miller went right on a scramble facing a third down and six, he gained 12 yards, but at the end of the play was decimated by Spartan LB Max Bullough. Kurtis Drummond scooped up the ball and had a certain touchdown ahead of him. The ref blew the play dead. Eventually replay gave the Spartans the ball, but not the touchdown. It was brutal.

Narduzzi said of that play, “Kurtis Drummond gets a fumble, he's going to score a touchdown but they blow the clock dead. We don't get anything. We get a turnover; that's all we get. We just didn't make enough plays today. We didn't get it done.”

Bullough said of the play, "I knew it was a fumble. I knew it right away. But those things happen. With plays happening so quick, those referees are doing the best they can. I think they did a great job. That's just part of the game of football, they are just trying to make the best calls they can and there are not a lot of people out there willing to do that."

A frustrated Drummond said, "I was thinking pick it up and run, I was trying to make a play. They started blowing the whistle and I started running. That's how it ended I guess. It looked like a fumble from where I was at. They teach us to keep playing until the whistle, so I picked it up and started running, and they blew the whistle so I stopped."

Dantonio knew the refs whistle was costly, but he also knew his team blew several other chances to win. He said of the play, "I'm not going to complain about the officiating because we could have had a pick six in the first quarter if we catch the football. They are doing the best job they can and we do the best we can. But that's just part of the game. They had to review it and I'm just glad we got the football. That's the way it goes sometimes. We left some plays on the field and we have to be better in certain situations. There are plays out there to be made."

We have discussed it ad nauseam here at Spartan Nation on all of our various media platforms, but it bears being repeated. Teams now are going to sell out to stop the run. Period. The Buckeyes held MSU to an anemic 26 rushing yards on Saturday. 26.

After the game, Dantonio again restated his commitment to balance and running the football. That is a great thing when you can do it, but MSU can’t. Their OL is decimated and frankly with every remaining team on their schedule, they all have the athletes to load the box and stop the run.

OC Dan Roushar admitted as much saying of the Buckeyes ability to shut down the run, "They dropped an eighth defender down into the box. When we motioned, they moved heavily to where our strength was. They made a commitment to stop the run and I think they did a good job."

On multiple occasions with the box stacked, Maxwell failed to audible into a slant or a pass that would have punished the Buckeyes. I asked him about that failure and he said, "We have plays that we know what we can't run it into, whether it be built in or just an out of the blue check. Those are things that we prepare for, and that's why we have meetings." Either Maxwell isn’t listening in those meetings, Coach Warner isn’t giving him better options, or the staff isn’t giving him enough leeway to get out of trouble. Something I will explore this week.

Here are two critical examples of that. On the Spartans last drive they had a first and ten at their own 31. A great play call and MSU can’t connect and it falls incomplete. The Buckeyes were daring MSU to throw. So on a second and ten, with a loaded box MSU inexplicably calls a dive run up the middle with Bell. It goes for 1 yard. Facing a critical third and nine, the Buckeyes adjust for the certain pass and MSU can’t convert and they punt. That one play didn’t cost them the game, but it did cost them a chance to compete for a win. Keep in mind MSU only had 33 rushing yards at the time. 33!

I asked Roushar after the game about that play call and he said, "We ran one earlier, a drive before, we thought we were really close on popping it. It felt like there was enough time on the clock (that) we (could) establish a big run there. Didn't want it to become a situation where we were in a two-minute mode or that type of situation. We didn't execute it well enough and to their credit they made the play. Obviously, that's one you'll look back on and wish we would have thrown it."

Another example of either bad play calling, poor coaching, or a failure of Maxwell to audible was late in the third quarter. With MSU facing a first and ten at their own 31, MSU was lined up in the gun. Maxwell had Bell lined up to his left. The Buckeyes had nine men in the box counting both safeties up eight yards off the ball. They run Nick Hill in motion from the slot. He brings his player with him bringing a tenth man in the box. MSU was lined up in a double tight end OL formation, but that is seven guys vs. ten and they lost three yards when a handoff to Hill gets killed.

Either Maxwell has to audible out of that using simple arithmetic that tells you seven on ten is not going to end well, Roushar has to attack down the field, or the Spartans must prepare for more of the same results.

The 2012 Michigan State football team is not as good as we thought. They are still a good football team, but not great. The OSU loss made clear that every part of this team has areas they can improve on. Starting with coaches and ending with the players.

Five games in, this MSU team has more questions than answers and that isn’t good.