Kevin Thomas takes another shot as a guest author by painfully looking at the MSU vs. Iowa game.

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If I had to pick one picture to describe MSU football, it would be when Charlie Brown was about to kick the football and the ball was taken at the last second by Lucy. We should be used to a game like this one, it reminded me of a George Perles coached football game-that is to say, dominate on the field and lose on the scoreboard. In fact, that is what John L. Smith’s teams did as well, win everywhere but the scoreboard, and why some teams reload with victories and optimism for tomorrow, MSU reloads its guns and keeps shooting itself in the foot.

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I am beginning to get Chicago Cubs fans feeling sorry for me. How bad can it get? However, just like Cubs fans, we will be rooting the Spartans on next week and probably wondering why. It is the kind of loss that Spartan fans don’t deserve and are typically saddled with.Â

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This was a struggling Iowa team that had trouble moving the ball this year, hadn’t had a rushing touchdown in ages, and was missing their best wide receivers. In fact, MSU played in the first half like they were finishing off a wounded animal until two things happened-the tirade of Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz, and the kneeling down of Brian Hoyer to end the first half.

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You got the feeling that Ferentz was going to try to fire up the troops and MSU was going to have to withstand an early second half barrage, and that if MSU would play smart for the first 5-10 minutes and quell the emotion of the Hawkeye’s, they could seal the victory.

Typically, that is also too much to ask of my lovable losers. Also, I don’t know about you, but whenever I see a QB taking a knee in the first half, sometimes that is where teams symbolically stop playing and it is was no different here as MSU could not muster or match the intensity that Iowa had in the third quarter. A word to the Spartan coaches and players-winning the first half does not mean you will win the game. (Yes, that was sarcasm).

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More importantly it looks like MSU will need at least seven wins to get to a bowl game even though six games makes them bowl eligible.

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Let me say this team has talent, but they just can’t put it together. Iowa couldn’t do anything in the first half and yet the MSU defensive front looked like a sieve as Albert Young took over the game in the second half. Did they think Iowa was going to quit in the second half?

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After the second Iowa touchdown, Spartan defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi ran from the press box and started calling plays from the sidelines, which seemed to help for a while…well, until they went to overtime. When you have a touchdown lead in the second overtime and you have Iowa saddled with a 2nd and 20 situation, how do you give a guy enough room not only to catch a pass for a first down, but turn it into a touchdown? The answer is easy, just play the Spartans, where the defense tends to open up like the red sea and let’s opposing warriors run free at the most inopportune time. Except in the movie version, eventually the water crashes down on the bad guys. That never happens in Spartan Land.

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More disappointing is the fact this team has generous talent. This is not a situation where

Nick Saban took over for a George Perles team devoid of scholarships, on probation, and lacking linemen on both sides of the ball. There is talent here. An outstanding QB, two of the better running backs in the country, solid offensive and defensive linemen, and some talented receivers, linebackers, and secondary people. They just can’t get on the same page and that is a coaching problem. The refocusing of this team that many expected, especially on the defensive side of the ball, hasn’t taken place. However, the offense is struggling as well in key spots.

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I feel sorry for Brian Hoyer, and anybody who knows football will know he was brilliant until the last play of the game yesterday when he probably shouldn’t have gone with that route to Devin Thomas and force him to pick up the first down with his feet. Hoyer needed to look in the end zone and probably throw it there, but again, people were covered and it would have been a tight fit. So he probably thought Thomas could get it done. However, to me, this speaks to the lack of imagination in the red zone with the passing game.

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Frequently, he is forced to throw into double coverage or a defender will be draped all over a receiver at other times. There is simply no margin for error in MSU’s passing game, no separation from the receivers, stems, or imagination in the passing game, and in addition, there is a frequent repetition of offensive plays, especially when throwing the pigskin. It was purely a stroke of luck and the exceptional skill of Hoyer and Devin Thomas late in regulation to give the Spartans an opportunity to win or send the game to game to overtime. Ever watch the replays and see who is open on passing plays? Hardly anyone. It is seldom a matter of Hoyer’s reads or decision making when they struggle. This shouldn’t come as a surprise however, Coach Treadwell was often ripped by Cincinnati fans for the same thing.

I do see Coach Treadwell making some progress, but the last two weeks have been a struggle.

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Look, I am not ripping the coaches or pining for John L. Smith, who gave us many 4th quarter meltdowns. The current MSU coaches are good guys, who want to win as much as anybody else. They had these players ready to play at the beginning of the game and through the first half. However, football is a game of adjustments and schemes and not just emotion, and the players are just as much responsible for this lost as the coaches, especially when there were many dropped passes, often a reality when facing a hard-hitting defense coached by Norm Parker as Spartans fans may remember. Still, a more focused and determined start at the start of the second half has to fall upon the coaches as does questionable play-calling and schemes on both sides of the ball. As coaches, you have to put your players in the best possible position to make plays and I don’t believe that is the case here. The old adage is, “If you are going to blitz, you better get there.” That is not happening with regularity. At other times, the play-calling is ultra conservative. Did anyone understand that short pass to the sidelines before the field goal to put the game in overtime?

That is the time to take a shot at the end zone. Coach Treadwell went from a guy criticized for throwing into the end zone four straight times in over time against Northwestern and following that by not going to the end zone enough in critical situations against Iowa. Treadwell said Hoyer was suppose to go to the end zone on that last play, but who was open? Some of the pass patterns are long developing where a QB can be pressured or sacked, and sometimes you need to have either a check down as a safety valve or max protect. I think Brian sensed he was running out of time to throw and he saw an open receiver and tried to let Thomas make a play, but still, and I won’t argue the point, it was a tragic mistake as many believe.

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The biggest point to be made of course, it should have never gotten to that point, should have never gotten to over time and it should have been a victory for MSU against a young and struggling Iowa football team. I said a few weeks ago there are no more excuses with MSU and there won’t be. MSU didn’t quit, but they did collapse and let Iowa back into the game and if you feel you are a good football team, then that is INEXCUSABLE. If you accept the way things went down today then you will accept mediocrity in East Lansing.

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Fans are extremely angry and I do not blame them. A win over Ohio State was a tough task, a win over Iowa taking in regards to their present situation is not. It should have happened and yet the one thing that is the difference between the great Spartan teams of Biggie and Duffy is that those teams played EXPECTING to win, while for the last several years Spartan teams, including this one, have HOPED to win, and there is a significant difference. It is about believe, faith, and confidence in each other as coaches and players to get it done and the Spartans continue to struggle in those areas with any consistency.

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Where do the Spartans go from here? They have Michigan coming up and at least the game is at home. Can they recover from the Iowa emotional disappointment? Michigan has been banged up with Mike Hart, now out of the Heisman race (You can’t get blown out your first two games and miss two others and still be in the race), probably testing his ankle for next week. Chad Henne is still banged but more than likely had they not played Minnesota he would have played. So for the MSU defense, it will be about wrapping up Hart who breaks tackles at the point of attack. On defense, UM shows a lot of ‘Morph’ looks-showing one defense before the snap of the ball and that switching to something else when the ball is snapped to confuse the reads of the opposing quarterbacks. People have tended to use the spread against the Wolverines but it is only effective if you have a mobile QB to go with it as Appalachian State and Oregon can attest to. Also, UM was very vanilla today against Minnesota and not showing much for the MSU game. The Spartans will have to do a lot of film study from previous games. The Spartans can win, but which team will show up?

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If MSU wins, it makes them bowl eligible and the fact that it would come against their rivals would calm down a lot of unhappy people and also give the Spartan program and recruiting a badly needed booster shot. However, as a typical Spartan fan, I will be watching but not holding my breath or betting the house the Spartans will win, after all, when Charlie Brown’s friends all got candy on Halloween, our Spartans usually get stuck with the same thing the Charlie Brown did, …a rock, and yet as Charlie would say, “This time I just know it will be different, this time I am going to kick that ball.” Same old Spartans? Maybe, but just like Charlie Brown, you have to love them.

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Peace and Go Spartans

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