East Lansing, MI
When Michigan State jumped out to a 36-7 lead late in the third quarter versus Notre Dame last weekend, the Spartan Nation was on fire. Dantonio and his coaches had come out on the attack and took it to the Irish.
The Spartan Nation then watched the Irish score 21 unanswered points as the Michigan State Spartans shut down their offensive attack that had given them the lead, in order to simply play defense and get their team the win.
One of my Twitter followers (sorry couldn’t find who) even called it, “The prevent offense.” After the game Mark Dantonio acknowledged the situation saying, “Yeah, it's tough. That wave starts to roll on you, just like it started to roll on them in the third quarter, and it's tough to stop, stop 'em. They get their momentum going, and they're making some plays and made some nice catches, had good coverage on guys a couple times, made great catches, great throws, but we found a way.”
When asked about his offense going conservative in that situation Dantonio took it head on, “Oh, yeah, it's 39-6, you're saying let's just play good defense not give 'em big ones, and let's milk the clock a little bit, and that's pretty much what we did until, you know, it got within 15, and then we had to play the game a little bit. We still ran the ball, took some time off the clock, but I thought we had to play the game…”
No one with a brain is questioning that Mark Dantonio is not a great coach and the unquestioned leader of Spartan football. He is also a man that I not only cover, but consider to be my friend on a personal basis. That doesn’t mean that all of us don’t need to evolve and grow.
Dantonio himself talks often about the need of every player, coach and the program to do that. So it is important in my opinion for him to take a long look at his tendency to “let’s milk the clock a little bit” (go conservative on offense) and how it can hurt this team has they move forward.
There is no doubt that Mark Dantonio’s Spartans are no longer happy with a bowl bid. This program is about championships. Mark Dantonio himself has declared this a year to go Back2Back with Big Ten titles.
Spartan Nation was outspoken and critical of the Spartan offensive game plan versus Alabama and even said that it was the first time that conservative nature cost the Spartans a win. YOU CAN READ THAT HERE.
Unfortunately the Spartans have seen other teams come with a, “Wave” of momentum like Dantonio exclaimed of the Irish, and make things more difficult as games come to an end down the stretch after the Spartans attempted to “let’s milk the clock a little bit.” So I turned my attention to another Spartan head coach who had struggled with this mindset in the past. He also happens to have been a, “Mentor” of Dantonio and a multiple national championship winning coach that many consider the best in college football: Nick Saban.
In his book, How Good do you Want to Be, Nick admitted his own failure of thinking similarly while the head man at MSU. He said on page 70,”as the head coach at Michigan State; I was much too conservative on offense. I thought you could win with a solid defense and a stable, but not aggressive, offense… It took two years, but I realized my mistake and learned from the consequences.”
I asked Dantonio about this exact quote from Saban and his evolution. Is it time for the Spartan head coach to reevaluate his philosophy. The Spartans don’t need to embarrass or run the score up on opponents, but I do think they need to learn how to keep their foot on the gas until the game is over. As usual he was frank in his answer.
“36-7 we’re not going to go back and keep talking about Notre Dame. But I think we looked at it, said three minutes to go in the third quarter, take the air out of the ball a little bit. But then as the game got closer, we wanted to play the game. We needed to start playing the game again when it was 14 points.”
I would argue that why would you have ever stopped playing the game? Why would you need to declare, “We needed to start playing the game again?” You can’t turn it on and off at a championship level. Champions play for 60 minutes. How fair is it to ask an offense that comes out on fire and ready to roar to slow down stop and then suddenly have to come roaring back. That mindset is dangerous in any profession.
I would like to see the Spartans enhance that killer instinct that once an opponent is down, give them a knockout blow! Finish the game.
Dantonio went on, “As I said earlier, when a team gets momentum like they did, like we did in the third quarter, you just have to stop them. It's the way the game flows sometimes. I think we did the things we needed to do to win the football game, especially at the end, and came away with the big win.”
Now let me make this clear. There is no doubt that what Dantonio has done is amazing while back in East Lansing as the head man. I also listen and he is fond of talking about doing new things, reaching higher and accomplishing more. Nick Saban has admitted that getting to a national championship level and arguably becoming the best coach in college football required him to change his methods.
I am not suggesting Dantonio to abandon his purpose or core beliefs. Simply embracing the concept that the methods are not sacred, simply the end goal of winning a national title is. I am proud to call Mark Dantonio a friend. I consider him among the nation’s top five college coaches. I have zero doubt that he can take the Spartans to a national title.
I also propose that to get over the final step in that rung of the ladder, the Spartans must keep their foot on the gas and attack. They did it last week in South Bend for 42 minutes, now they need to do it for 60 minutes. If they do, the sky is the limit in the Spartan Nation.
I want to see Mark Dantonio’s game plan to reflect his defensive philosophy that saw him win a national title at Ohio State. On defense the Spartans attack for 60 minutes. That has always been their Modus Operandi.
We saw against Notre Dame the Spartans came out attacking on offense. Now let’s mirror the defense and attack for 60 minutes in every phase of the game.
If the Spartans mantra and action on offense and defense for the remaining 2016 season is simply attack all the time, I don’t see one team on the schedule the Spartans won’t take down.
It’s time for the Spartans in all part of the football game and for all 60 minutes to attack! This is a great head coach with great players and assistants. Foot off the gas it is time to turn them loose, or as Mark Dantonio says, “Let the lion out of the cage.”