Michigan State Head Football Coach Mark Dantonio and Offensive Coordinator Dan Roushar Move All In With, “Pound Green Pound.”

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Michigan State Head Football Coach Mark Dantonio and Offensive Coordinator Dan Roushar Move All In With, “Pound Green Pound.”

It should be said, although everyone knows, that for the most part coaches making large sums of money know more about football then most. That includes the media. As well as I know Mark Dantonio and Dan Roushar, I can tell you it is also the case with them, even when question includes me.

I am not about to debate, or try to imply, how much more I know because I don’t. What I am going to do is simply lay out the facts. With the reenergized commitment of the Spartans to the pound green pound mentality, I am going to analyze it. Trust them, and see where the cards end up.

Let’s go back to Mark Dantonio’s hiring for a moment. John L. Smith had been fired after his teams would notably take leads with an exciting offense only to lose them with an exhausted defense and a team that couldn’t run the ball. That is a fact.

In comes Dantonio - with a Big Ten pedigree and a toughness that had the collective Spartan Nation saying thank you to the heavens! At last a guy understood the Big Ten and winning! 

Earlier this week Mark talked about the past 16 games at the helm of MSU. His record is an impressive 13-6, and he said, “Most people know we can throw the football. But we have to run the football to be successful. If you look at our 13-3 mark over the last 16 games, the three games that we were unable to run the football, on a consistent basis, were the three games we lost. It’s just the way it is. And I would say that’s probably the case with most people.”

So will the Spartans move to a pass to run philosophy when they play teams who have the personnel to stop the run? “So we'll shore up the offensive line, and that's regardless really of what happens or who is playing, we have got guys on scholarship and we have got guys who have been coached and we need to pound the ball. Like we have said, pound, green pound, we need to run this football.”

I understand that at his core Mark Dantonio wants to run the ball. In fact I love that. I subscribe to the old theory that, “Only three things can happen when you throw and two of them are bad.” With the development of this program from pretender (where they were when he arrived) to contender (now) teams know how Dantonio thinks and are playing him for it. That is fine if you are the Lombardi-led Packers who used to say publicly, “I don’t care that you know what I am going to do, you still can’t stop it.” But when you are a snake bitten by injury and young team it can cost you…dearly.

I wrote the following on January 5, 2011 after the Capital One Bowl, “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.”

I still feel that way. The Iowa game was still fresh in our memory before the Capital One Bowl blowout loss. The Spartans lost both in similar fashion.

When I asked Alabama head coach Nick Saban about the Spartans PRIOR to the Capital One Bowl he didn’t mince any words. Saban usually offers nothing and keeps his plans close to the chest. He didn’t. He said, “They are stubborn and will keep trying to establish the run.”

Saban was correct. I had called for MSU to use the pass to establish the run. It makes no sense to reward teams for putting seven, eight or nine men in the box when you can audible to a quick slant pass or a hot route.

I was convinced, after talking to Dantonio and Roushar in the months since the loss, that maybe they had adjusted their thinking. I was wrong.

Even Saban, in his book, “How Good do you Want to Be,” 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. We lost five games that year -games that we might have had a better shot if we’d tried to win on offense. It took two years, but I realized my mistake and learned from the consequences.”

Anyone who knows, or understands The Nicktator, has a clear sense of how difficult admitting something like that must have been. For the record, I do not want, or dream that Saban should come back. I think the Spartan Nation is fortunate to have Dantonio. I also know that Saban has the advantage of looking back and writing those words after years of retrospection. Dantonio is just now into his eighth year as a head coach.

Brian Kelly, the Notre Dame head coach, said nearly the same as had Saban, when after week’s Irish win over the Spartans he declared that he knew the Spartans were dedicated to the run and would stick with it. Manti Te'o, their fine LB told me personally when I asked about the Spartans in the first three quarters continuing to attack the middle - when it wasn’t there, “We knew they were dedicated to running the ball. We knew it was something they would keep coming back to so we had to be prepared to stop it.”

People point to the fact that MSU threw the ball 54 times in the game, but remember that 25 came in the fourth quarter, when, Kelly admitted after the game, “…they were forced to throw the football. We were able to pin our ears back.” Dantonio even admitted on Tuesday, “We had to pass the ball in the fourth quarter.”

The 54 number is also deceiving because many of the throws in the first three quarters were screens and quick, bubble-type passes. While categorized as passes, these can also be arguably thought of as quasi-running plays.

So where is MSU now? After the beating by the Irish Mark Dantonio came out and doubled down to use a Vegas term. He said, “We don't change our philosophy. We have too good of running backs. We have to put the ball in our running backs' hands because they are too good of players. That's where that comes from. If we had average running backs, we can change our -- we would change our thinking I think, but our running backs are too good of players. We have to put the ball in those guys' hands, some kind of way, and I think that's important. Because they can make plays for us.”

Roushar lamented the Wildcat, and unbalanced usage and timing, but still held strong to pound green pound when he said, “At the end of the day we've got to be better what we do, and I've got to be better at what I do.”

So here is how the season unfolds. Mark Dantonio has done what his predecessor could not do and that is win the games he should. CMU this week is a no-win situation. If the Spartans blow them out (and they should) it is what was expected. If it is close - that could be a sign of problems. If they lose - the sky is falling. The bottom-line is there is no way for the Spartans to get a wow factor for their season this Saturday. 

They need to come in angry and smash someone in the face. Unfortunately for Dan Enos that is CMU, but it is what it is.

The next true test, and frankly the turning point for the season, is the following week in Columbus. There is a danger of looking past CMU. But this team wants to be special, can be special and should be special. Enough. Just win and advance.

Before the season I predicted MSU would win in Columbus. I believed it then, and I believe it now. But the blueprint to stop the Spartans is out. Every opponent on the MSU schedule knows exactly what the Spartans are going to do. They will run the ball. Run the ball, and if you stop it, continue to run the ball until late in the game when you now they have to pass, and you can pin your ears back and attack. That’s fine if you win, but if you don’t?

I established in the first part of this article that I am not implying or attempting to imply that I know more than Dantonio or Roushar. I am also acknowledging that I do have a very good feel for the game of football and understand it well. I am also fortunate to have great relationships with people at all levels of the game who provide great input.

The Spartans have moved all of their chips to the center of the table. They are all in. I love it. I love the running game. With so many injuries and young players, I would use more screens, more shotgun, more flat and tight end passing. That is me. For Mark Dantonio and Dan Roushar it is pound green pound.

I don’t think anyone doubts they can do it against CMU. Columbus is the true test, and where many of Dantonio’s friends still coach. They know him and he knows them.

I want to see MSU use their immense firepower and aerial advantage early. Force teams using seven, eight or nine men in the box to back off. You have those weapons, why not use them? Then, when they have to retreat from their desire to stop the run, bash them. 

Sun Tzu the mastermind of warrior tactics said this, “He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight…He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared.”

Teams are openly strategizing as to how to beat the Spartans. They are daring MSU to attack them in the flat and with tight ends, quick passes, hot routes, shotgun and screens - to take what they will give you.

I doubt Mark Dantonio has a person more convinced of his abilities than I. He has earned my respect, it wasn’t given. It is amazing to look at what he inherited, and how far this program has come in a few short years. I also know that he and his team declared 2011 would be a good-to-great year. As Saban admitted in his book, and Sun Tzu exclaimed centuries ago, sometimes you have to adjust and change. Sometimes it isn’t the method that is sacred, it is the victory that matters most.

MSU has nine remaining regular season games left including: Northwestern, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa and Ohio State. All of them got the memo from Iowa, Alabama and Notre Dame. All of them have the blueprints.

The Spartans have the coaching and talent which provide them choices. They could simply improve on their current philosophy of pound-green-pound, impose their will, and win like the Lombardi teams. The concern is teams are so prepared for this strategy from the Spartans that, with a more narrow, Big-10 League player talent differential than what Lombardi enjoyed in the NFL back in the day, staying with the same game plan of the last three losses (Iowa ‘10, Alabama ‘11, and ND ’11) will not lead to improvement, and increases the risk of additional losses. Changing to more of a pass-to-run mentality, when appropriate, may improve the odds of winning. This is especially true given the plethora of skill players on the team.

The staff has moved all in judging by their own words, and is committed to improving and winning. I love it and hope it works. If not, a magical season becomes a nightmare. For this program, it is no longer enough to have bowl-eligible seasons. With a fifth year senior QB, and weapons all over the field it is fair to expect more.

How they get there is up to them. They have moved all in.