Coming off the bitter 17-16 loss to Ohio St., the Spartans travel to Bloomington to battle Indiana for the Old Brass Spittoon.
It’s hard to imagine ever beating Ohio St. without scoring more than one Touchdown. Amazingly, the Spartans did that last year through the heavy winds in Columbus, and came within a point of pulling off their second in a row. But the Offense simply didn’t do enough to beat Ohio St. in the opener. They must get to the End Zone more than once a week.
The biggest issues for this unit remain the Offensive Line and Wide Receiver play. The Line was expected to be much stronger this year, yet as we discussed early on, that reputation would have to be earned on the field. They may not be as good as the Line of last year, in part due to injury. “We’ve lost two very good players (starters Fou Fonoti and Travis Jackson), but we get one back in Blake Treadwell,” Coach D told Spartan Nation yesterday. Fonoti does have a Red Shirt available, however, which you might expect he’d take if the Spartans are out of Legends’ Division contention when he’s ready to effectively return.
Saturday’s pitiful rushing performance of only 35 yards (taking out the sacks) along with the disappointment against Notre Dame suggests rather clearly that MSU can’t run against the “Big Boys” right now. They’ve got two games before they’ll face three big ones in a row (Michigan, Wisconsin, & Nebraska) to fix it. If they can’t, they’ll be left one dimensional and running even further up hill. “You need to go on, and you need to make things work,” Dantonio summed up about rebuilding the Line.
The Line may have been coming together before Fou Fonoti got injured two days before Notre Dame, but their depth has been strained much further with the loss of the Center (Jackson). They now must count on a healthy Treadwell and hope that Jackson was the last big blow for the year. They cannot afford to lose another starter if they’re realistically going to improve much.
The Receiver position was supposed to be a work in progress this year, but there was a sense of security in a healthy Bennie Fowler returning, DeAnthony Arnett having started in the SEC last year, and with others already seasoned in the program like Keith Mumphrey, who looked ready to contribute quickly. Now there’s major issues and Depth Chart changes. Too many players are consistently dropping too many balls. Tony Lippett, Bennie Fowler, and maybe a couple others have to be feeling the heat they’ve created because now there’s other guys set to get their shot at more playing time.
“We’ve always played four or five Wide Receivers in our system,” Dantonio explained, while noting that Freshmen Aaron Burbridge and Macgarrett Kings need to get more opportunities since their Red Shirts have already been taken off. It’s time for someone to step forward and grab the opportunities at that position.
Many struggling with drops are not young players. They’re guys who’ve been around for more than three years in this program. So now the Coaching Staff rightfully wants to get a better “game” look at the rest of the Receivers, starting at Indiana. There’s got to be a couple guys who can eliminate the momentum killing and drive limiting drops we’ve already seen enough of. We’re not talking about tough drops. We’re talking about the simple kind that we last saw to this extent during the John L. era.
Andrew Maxwell continues to gain experience and improve through these early struggles. As Spartan Nation has said in the past, blame the Coaching Staff for failing to get him more quality time during games in 2011, it was often available. But credit Maxwell for sticking with his patch-together Offensive Line and continuing to go to Wide Outs after they’ve dropped maybe their tenth pass in five games. He’s quickly laying his own foundation as a strong Big Ten starting Quarterback. There’s no doubt he can play at a high level, and he’s been limited by the help around him thus far.
As we discussed last week, the Dawgs probably felt like they had to lead the way again against Ohio St. once again. There’s only so much a Defense can carry though, and they did turn OSU over often. But for an ill timed whistle after Braxton Miller fumbled and Kurtis Drummond scooped it up headed down the sideline, they might have closed the deal. It’s unclear why the whistle was blown so soon, but it looked like the Defensive star of the day was off with the fumble recovery at least into the Buckeye Red Zone, if not the End Zone. That call didn’t decide the game’s outcome, but it may go down as the “what could’ve been” break of the year for the Spartans.
Braxton Miller was largely as advertised, practically a skilled Tailback who’s learning the Quarterback position as he goes. Ironically, the game winning TD came off his arm for a 63-yarder to Devin Smith. Smith beat Johnny Adams in a nearly flat sprint down the sideline, with Miller’s pass ranking among the best of his career so far. The QB Urban Meyer called more talented than Tim Tebow was excellent in his “national break out game” as just under 5 million tuned in on their tele. Miller made the Spartans miss all day, made them take bad angles, and ran through plenty of arm tackles on his way to the one-point win.
Yet, credit the Defense for keeping the Spartans in the game. They cannot beat every team on their own. No single unit can do that. And as good as this unit is, there’s still room for improvement. Anthony Rashad White hasn’t been the player he was late last year alongside of Jerel Worthy. That’s no heavy knock on White, just an analysis that the push up the middle is not what it’s been. James Kittredge continues to come on, however, and could become a force inside before the end of 2012.
Johnny Adams is another Red-Shirt Senior that has struggled a bit. He’s been caught out of position and playing with less than the technique Spartan Nation knows he has at a couple different times this year. It’s a tough position to play on this Defense, probably the most difficult, but Adams needs to raise his game if this Defense is going to play better at the end of the year than they have so far. Not to mention if he wants a shot to be drafted in the top half of next April’s NFL Draft.
The Spartans had Braxton Miller exactly where they wanted him often, especially early on. There were maybe a dozen times they could’ve had him down either behind the line or short of any significant gain. That’s got to be frustrating for Max Bullough and company, but they may face no tougher matchup the rest of the year, and won’t see anything in Miller’s class between now and their trip to Ann Arbor.
It was a much better day for Kevin Muma other than his last kick which went out of bounds at exactly the wrong time. Muma looked a lot stronger by touching OSU back and improving the opposition starting field position, which we discussed last week has become a concern.
How about Mike Sadler? He likes to play against the Buckeyes I guess, bouncing back and having arguably his best punting day in Green and White with a 70 yarder and 55.4 yard average. The punt the Buckeyes blocked did not appear to be all Sadler’s fault, and was evened out by a Braxton Miller fumble a few snaps later. Overall, Sadler brought his “A-Game” last weekend (when Tiger didn’t!), which will likely be counted on for a while as we’ve discussed earlier in the fall.
Nick Hill had an up and down day. A couple good kick returns, and one really bad decision on a punt return where he should’ve called for a fair catch, didn’t, but was then blown up to the face by a Buckeye. Hill was lucky to hold on to the ball and lucky the 15-yard Penalty was flagged against OSU. He didn’t look as solid as he has in the past, and needs to become more consistent as we’ve already discussed. Hill’s on a shorter leash, no question, so don’t be surprised if we see another Spartan lining up to take the ball back as the season progresses.
It kinda felt like the Spartans lost the Ohio St. game by more than one-point because without the OSU turnovers, the margin would’ve been much larger. On the other hand, you could say had the Referee not blown the whistle on the Kurtis Drummond’s fumble recovery way to early, MSU might have pulled out the “W.” I recall a Head Coach once coming into Spartan Nation and preaching something about Football being a game of inches.
Make no mistake though, that whistle didn’t cost the Spartans the game. The better team won Saturday, and the start this week will say a lot about whether the Spartans have accepted that and moved on. MSU should not come out flat at Indiana’s Homecoming game. It’s up to the leaders on this team to keep their locker room from getting stuck in September because the season is still so long from being over. That transition forward should begin by going down to Bloomington and absolutely hammering the helpless Hoosiers. Believe me, they’re ready for it.
You can say the Spartans left a lot of plays out on the field against Ohio St. and they did, but those plays are over. This team will have to improve significantly to have a realistic shot of getting down to Indy once again for a shot at the Rose Bowl. It’s not going to be very easy, and expect many around the league to remove the Spartans from ranking as the Big Ten favorite from here. But this program may now be strong and deep enough to weather and survive this early season storm.
The biggest issues moving forward are the Offensive Line, Wide Receivers, and Place Kicking game. The Spartans cannot get to their Rose goal unless each of those areas really improves. To raise their game, they’ll need no more injuries on the Offensive Line, accountability and fundamentals from their Wide Receivers, and for Dan Conroy to kick like the experienced Red-Shirt Senior he is.
This is not a great Michigan State Football team right now. The last two teams were. That’s far from a slight to the 2012 squad since there’s plenty of talent in hand for them to accomplish great things this year. Though injury and inexperience may limit them, that does not mean the season cannot be a success and that they cannot achieve great things. If their key deficiencies are tuned up, the common theme you’ve recently heard that “all our goals are still ahead of us” could yet still be realized.
P.A.T. (Perhaps Another Thought…)
- I guess the days of Urban Meyer making unwanted waves in the Big Ten aren’t over after all, and we’re not even half way through his first year in Columbus. Getting the coming opponent’s proper game tape had never been much of an issue according to other Big Ten Coaches earlier this week. I bet it will be watched pretty closely now, just as everyone in the league’s probably going to keep a closer eye on the new Head Buckeye from here.
- Before people get too upset with the Spartans’ Offensive Line and start questioning this Staff’s recruiting record, keep in mind past attrition at those positions. You cannot lose a big time “get” like David Barrent to retirement and have careers seriously limited like Arthur Ray and Henry Conway (to date) without it eventually catch up to you at some point.