Few, if any, members of Michigan State's football team have come under more fire these last two weeks as Spartans defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton.
In 24 games at coordinator, Hazelton's defenses have surrendered at least 400 yards of offense 15 times, including six games in which Michigan State surrendered over 500 yards. The Spartans allowed 508 yards two weeks ago at Washington, and 503 yards of offense this past week against Minnesota.
Hazelton met with the media this week ahead of Michigan State's road trip to Maryland, and while the defensive coordinator tried to exude confidence in what the Spartans are doing, it came off a little cringe-worthy.
Here are five things that Hazelton said that stood out the most:
1. "There's a lot of bang-bang plays out there where we just need to tighten up an alignment, or tighten up a position...and then those bang-bang plays will be made. That's what's been hurting us. It's the 'death by inches' stuff as we line up."
Let's get one thing straight — Scottie Hazelton has probably forgotten more about football then what I know. He coaches for a living.
With that being said, to my eyes and the eyes of most of us watching the game, it doesn't look like there are too many "bang-bang" plays happening on this defense. Michigan State looks out of position, often.
We've seen countless times were coverage defenders are several yards away from where the ball is being thrown. Does alignment play a big part in that? Yes, I'm sure it does. But to say a lot of these plays are "bang-bang" close to going MSU's way just doesn't seem accurate.
Inches add up to feet and yards pretty quickly when it's happening at the rate we've seen it happen with this defense.
2. “It’s been a little different as we go through. We saw two totally different teams. Week 1 it’s a Pac-12 [team] and Kalen [DeBoer] is a good football mind, and they do a really good job with their offense. Last week was more traditional Big Ten stuff. So, the different things show up as you go through."
The context of this quote is Hazelton was asked if the "little details" that MSU fell short on were different week to week against the last two opponents.
I'm sure this isn't how Hazelton intended the above quote to be interpreted, but I hear this and think to myself — Michigan State saw two totally different offensive approaches against Washington and Minnesota, and were equally ineffective at stopping both.
The Huskies had a dynamic quarterback with good mobility and a really good crop of receivers. They shredded the Spartans for 397 passing yards.
The Gophers were a run-based offense that had one of the best running backs in college football and a physically dominate offensive line. They rushed for 240 yards and threw for 268 yards.
To me, this means that Michigan State can't defend anything right now. Sure, opponents know they can attack the Spartans' secondary, and that's where the problems begin. But the issues run much deeper than that.
3. “I don’t know if it’s a short-term fix. I think ‘the next man up’, we just need to keep working with that guy and get him to be right. Is it a personnel problem? No. We have players in the room that are tough…that are physical. They work like crazy, man. Those guys work at an exceptional rate and they grind every day at practice."
Again, there are more red flags here.
"I don't know if it's a short-term fix" would indicate either Michigan State doesn't have the personnel to execute their scheme, OR that the scheme itself isn't working and it can't be scrapped mid-year.
Hazelton goes on to say that the Spartans don't have a personnel problem, and talks about how hard the players are working every day in practice. If personnel isn't the issue, and the players are grinding in practice, the only thing left to blame is the defensive coaches.
I'm sure it was intentional or not — my assumption is that Hazelton is standing up for his guys here — but the defensive coordinator pointed all the blame at himself and the other defensive coaches here.
4. "If you really watch it we’ve mixed it up quite a bit. Sometimes we’re off [the line of scrimmage], sometimes we’re on. It’s a different deal. We’ve played man, we’ve played zone, we’ve done all those things. As we continue to go, we’ll continue to see what we’re good at and we’ll continue to play those. It will change up depending on what [we’re good at].”
Hazelton is talking about Michigan State's pass coverages in the above quote. He says they've tried man, they've tried zone and that they'll continue to play what they are good at.
Here's the problem — You haven't been good at anything!
All I see with this quote is that the coaching staff has tried everything they know to do, and none of it has worked. The Spartans have played press man, they've played soft man, they've played zone, they've blitzed, they've rushed four and haven't been successful with any of it these last two weeks.
5. "We had that for a little while …When guys listen to the outside sources, they get knocked down about those things. They do believe, and they are believing and they’re going that way [towards] getting that swagger back. Now, we’re trying to keep them from getting [into] the outside noise because that says, ‘Hey you’re not good enough’.”
This quote really takes the cake for me.
Hazelton was asked how the defense can get its swagger back after giving up over 500 yards in each of these last two games. He basically said that his players lost their confidence because they are hearing how fans and those who cover the team are telling them they aren't any good.
Or, maybe players have lost their confidence because their coaches haven't put them in a position to succeed. Maybe they've lost their swagger because they have eyes, and they see how bad it looks on film.
That's just me speculating, but don't try to pin the players lack of confidence on "outside noise". This quote above just doesn't read well at all.
My intention here wasn't to sit down and rip Hazelton and Michigan State's players to shreds. That's not why I do this job. However, I have to be honest about what I see and what I hear from coaches, and that's what I've done here.
Michigan State cycles through its coaching staff and has one or two coaches speak to the media each week. This happened to be Hazelton's week, and I felt like he really struggled at the podium.
We'll see what the Spartans' defense looks like on Saturday, but they've got a tough challenge ahead a Maryland offense that features a pretty darn good quarterback and several weapons on the outside.