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Spartan Poor Performance Unacceptable Against CMU

Saturday the sacred cathedral of the Spartan Nation, Spartan Stadium, became home to the most disappointing loss to the Mark Dantonio era. One team came in with a superb game plan, expertly coached, young and hungry. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the Spartans. 


First, let me congratulate the Chippewas on a tremendous game plan, terrific adjustments, and a great win. My following comments do not in any way take away or disrespect their win. To say it nicely, the Spartans had the worse loss of the Mark Dantonio era; maybe not by the sheer amount of points they lost by, but by the fact that they looked undisciplined, lackadaisical, and quite frankly, many of them acted like they didn’t even want to be there. 


I mentioned to readers of the Phalanx Forum that there was something that happened at the end of the third quarter that I would elaborate on in this article and here it is. At the end of the third quarter the Spartans dropped their heads and walked to the other end of the field. Remember at that point the Spartans were in the lead. They acted as if they would rather be anyplace else besides on that field. The Chippewa players, collectively, all sprinted to the other end and when they got there jumped into the air wildly into each others’ bodies fired up with the enthusiasm of a 5th grader and his friends ready for a pick up game after school. It was at that moment that what we had been sensing for three quarters had manifested it. 


The Spartans expected the Chippewas to roll over because they were facing the mighty Spartans. Unfortunately for the Spartan Nation, the Chippewas either didn’t get the message or, quite frankly, didn’t care. They could sense their opponent was not ready for a fight and they were. In sports, euphemisms can be overused, but this one was true at that moment. The Chippewas were hungry and they could smell blood in the water. 


There are a lot of reasons why the Spartans lost Saturday. Pat Narduzzi admitted the staff was out coached and they were. The unforced and undisciplined penalties and mistakes were inexcusable and many other areas of concern came to light. Those will be discussed in detail in my final analysis that will come Sunday after watching the tape many times. 


Mark Dantonio and this staff certainly are not bad coaches, although they had a bad game. The players are not bad kids or athletes, but they had a bad game. The sky is not falling on Spartan football. I have said many times since the conclusion of the 2008 season that Mark Dantonio was doing a tremendous job rebuilding the program, but that it certainly is not a completed project. 


Coach Dantonio echoed my warnings that adversity would come and that this program was not complete. He was right. That is O.K. The Spartan faithful have never asked for perfection from a leader. This fan base is intelligent and understands how far we have come and have to go.  Today was not continued progress. Today was a loss that they shouldn’t have had.


This was only the second game since the arrival of the new staff where they truly lost a game they should have won (NW in 07 the other). This was the first game since the arrival of the new staff that the players have played collectively undisciplined, uninterested, and disrespecting of their opponent.  I took a lot of criticism when I said prior to this season in the magazine that regardless of what people thought this is not a Big Ten championship team. I stand by that. I also said that it is a good football team, and I still stand by that. 


Mark Dantonio is not building for the 2009 Big Ten championship. He is building for the future and for many years to come. 


Today was a disappointment. Today every member of the Spartan Nation should be frustrated, but today is not the end of a program and certainly nothing that should cause the fans to lose faith in our leader. 


I pressed Offensive Coordinator Don Treadwell after the game for the failure of his quarterbacks to audibalize when power-running plays were called and the Chippewas had stacked the box. I even followed up my original question and he made it clear that when runs were called the quarterbacks were not allowed to overrule it. Therefore, when Keith Nichol or Kirk Cousins stepped to the line of scrimmage with 8 or 9 Chippewas drooling and praying for a run it is not the fault of young quarterbacks that they are not empowered to fix an obviously correctable situation.


I will ask Dantonio on Sunday if the decision to empower the quarterbacks to audibalize is his or Treadwell’s, but clearly it is not the fault of our young gunslingers and that error rests on this staff alone. 


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I can understand the argument that you don’t want young players to get overwhelmed. I also understand that this is Big Time football and why a QB competing for a starting spot can’t actually call a bubble screen, slant pass, option or pitch out when the opponent clearly is expecting the power run with the box stacked, bewilders me. How can you have a QB competition if they are not allowed to compete?


I can truthfully say I don’t put this loss on Don Treadwell and the offense alone. 27 points and 0 turnovers along with 316 yards of offense is plenty to win you every game. We must not forget critical penalties, poor passes, and dropped balls certainly contributed. Defensively, mental mistakes, poor technique, and simply being out hustled are not key components to victory. On defense, the Spartans had a good game plan. They simply failed to execute it. 


I’ll never forget when my daughter came home from school after her first day of kindergarten. She looked up at me with her beautiful blue eyes upset after her first day of school. When I asked my little princess how in the world she could be upset after only one day of school her answer was simple. “Daddy, I don’t have a good teacher. I can’t read yet.” My daughter, now, is an honor student in high school. Obviously, her kindergarten teacher and all those she has had since have been excellent, but there has been a learning curve. There is one also in this program. Coach D warned us that there would be days like this and he was right.


I will get in much more detail and analysis with both sides of the ball, special teams, along with individuals, and coaching staff later in my Sunday column, but for now it is fair to be disappointed. It’s not only legitimate but it’s fair. If the problems we saw exposed today continue, then certainly this would be elevated to more that just a disappointing experience. 


There is nothing wrong losing a football game to a well-coached good team. There is something wrong with it, however, when the effort by both coaches and players doesn’t match that of your opponent. There are 10 more games left in this season. A loss to CMU can be forgotten with a big win over a team that maybe we shouldn’t have beaten, like a Penn State or a bowl game. This one stings. This one hurts. This one is frustrating. This one, however, doesn’t ruin a program, ruin a season, or change a simple fact. Unlike before, we have a tremendous head coach who we know will fix the problem. 


I respect the man who is building this program and the staff and players he has brought in to do it. It doesn’t change the facts and those are simple. This loss in year three is unacceptable. This loss can’t and shouldn’t happen. This loss came to a program whose facilities are so far below what MSU has that their coaches’ wives considered running a hot dog stand at their spring game to raise money for a cold tub. A cold tub. 


I for one have great confidence in the direction of Spartan football. I have great confidence in the man trusted to lead it. I also think that this was a disappointing performance. Those happen when a team is rebuilding. Those happen when a team is in the rebuilding process. This was Coach Dantonio’s 27th game at the helm of Spartan football. The years before he came were littered with losses like this. This was his first. He deserves a mulligan while rebuilding.


That doesn’t mean that players, schemes and perhaps strategies were exposed today. They have to be fixed. If your QB at MSU is unable to see a box stacked and not know running up the middle or off tackle is a sure fire failure, then your QB shouldn’t be here. 


I was at Dan Lefevour’s first game. He has grown into what he is today. He has called audibles and changed plays since that first game. This isn’t a season we win the Big Ten. Why not let our sophomores grow into what Lefevour has been for three seasons by trusting them?


Nichol and Cousin are not true freshman. Stretch the field. Call audibles and let your horses run. If you have to burn a red shirt to bench a player and send a message that people who continually make mistakes get benched, you do it. I would rather a young player make a mistake out of zeal, then an older player continue to make them and be rewarded with more playing time. 


I am not worried. I am not in any way concerned about these men or the future. They will fix this. This is a good staff. Like their players they have to get better and improve. You play the game to win. You do not play to not lose. The coaches and players having fun on Saturday were not ours. The coaches and players going for the W and not playing not to lose wasn’t ours.


Sadly the hungry team with a fire and a zeal that was thrilled to play in a big time stadium on national TV wasn’t our team. Sadly the coaching staff taking the risks and rolling the dice to win the game was not ours. Sadly this was a loss.


Life is full of bad performances for all of us. Let’s just fix it and move on. A win Saturday in South Bend goes along way to heal this wound and a victory over Wisconsin and UM washes it away.