Spartan Stadium

East Lansing, Michigan

The football game that fans witnessed today was a joke.  After whipping CMU in Mount Pleasant earlier this year, those same Chips went on the road to beat Iowa.  The Hawkeyes are well coached, but not the Iowa teams of old.  The Spartans reverted to the teams of old and were let down by some of their coaches.

The Spartans played not to lose and the Hawkeyes played to win.  Once again, the Spartans left the field for the second straight home game with their coaching staff having cost them a critical game.  I have written about it extensively, but once again the Spartans failed to attack.  They have weapons and they didn’t use them.

Content to play a game of field goals and close calls, the undermanned Hawkeyes scraped and clawed and fought to win.  For those that follow me on Twitter I made my opinion clear prior to a second quarter fourth and one.  The Spartans had the ball at the Iowa seven.  The Spartan D had been outstanding and I said that I felt Dantonio was making a mistake not going for the first down.  I made it clear that whether or not he got the first down, he had a defense playing well and he needed to play to win, not kick field goals.  You be the judge if I was right.

Dantonio said after the game, “Sometimes life’s tough and life’s not very fair, but sometimes it’s fair too, you sort of get what you deserve sometimes,” I agree.  What isn’t fair is that the abysmal play calling is haunting MSU again.  MSU had success when they attacked the Hawkeyes who are following the key laid out by Alabama in the Capital One Bowl in 2011.  If you stack the box against MSU and stop the run, they won’t move away from it.

You’ve read Nick Saban’s quote.  I have used it over and over. Prior to the Spartans Capital One Bowl tilt he said to me, “They are stubborn and will keep trying to establish the run.”  Saban knew it, and the so has everyone since then.  Teams are stacking the box in order to take away what MSU wants to do the best; Run the ball.  The Spartans will go on the attack, have success and go back to the run.

MSU refuses to use the pass to set up the run.  They are committed to the run to a point that it is costing them games; three losses this year so far where opponents stacked the box and didn’t move away from it.  They stayed focused on the run even when MSU had success in the air.  They knew they would come back to the ground game.

Look at Notre Dame earlier this year.  When MSU went to the hurry up aerial attack they had success and immediately went away from it.  It continues to happen and it continues to take away the chance to win.  MSU refused to go on the attack and that is a coaching decision.

I wrote this over a year ago about Michigan State and the play calling.  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 last 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.”

The Spartans came into the season talking National Title, Big Ten Champs, and a Rose Bowl.  They will tell you (and did Saturday in the locker room) that those goals are all ahead of them.  The first one is officially out.  The other two are germane only mathematically, not realistically.

People are clamoring for Dan Roushar’s head.  They want him fired.  My social media and email tells the story.  I still disagree.  Roushar is facing what Don Treadwell faced; fans screaming about the play calling.  The problem is NOT the offensive coordinator; it rests on the head coach.

I support Mark Dantonio.  I think he is a great coach and has done an amazing job at MSU.  He is a man of great character and integrity and has become a victim of his own success.  He has raised the bar of expectation and experience.

The play calling has been a common thread through his reign at the helm of MSU football.  OC has changed, but that remains the same.  He doesn’t call the plays, but there is NO DOUBT inside MSU football who sets the direction, philosophy and expectations.

Mark Dantonio must learn to adapt his offensive strategy to his defense.  The Spartans must learn to attack.  This isn’t about an occasional going for it on fourth down or a trick play.  It is smelling the blood in the water like a hungry shark.

Mark Dantonio has to understand that he has brought MSU to an entire new level and to get where it wants to go, he has to go from the hunted to the hunter.  It is one thing to play a lesser opponent and to manhandle them.  It is another to play good teams (OSU, Notre Dame, Iowa) and not adjust when they line up to take away your bedrock philosophy.

The time has come for Dantonio to not be committed to a run first philosophy and playing smash mouth football.  Pound green pound works great against teams in which you have an overwhelming superiority of talent.  It must be to doing whatever it takes to win.  You can point to the yards by LeVeon Bell, but MSU continues to scratch and crawl for points.  It isn’t working.

LeVeon is a great back.  Teams are loading up on him.  Andrew Maxwell is the real deal and has all the tools to be great, but you have to turn him loose.  Like Saban, Dantonio must evolve his offensive philosophy for the Spartans’ dreams and goals to be reached.

The defense looked drained on the final drives of the last two losses.  A product of an offense that can’t get sustained drives.  They are not the issue, but they will have to find ways to sustain the energy until the end.  Perhaps more substitutions would help, but again they aren’t the issue.

The issue is the Spartans need to attack.  Football is a violent game.  It is a game of brute force and blunt force trauma.  They must evolve. Mark Dantonio is the right man to lead Spartan Football.  He is a good man and a good football coach.

I have often said he took the best from Saban and Tressel and was able to maneuver away from the worst.  Now he needs to follow Saban’s path and learn to attack.  Like Saban said, “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.”

MSU has five games left.  A season that started with talk of a National Title, a Big Ten Title, and a Rose Bowl is fast taking shape as one that may end in no Bowl.  The Spartans are better than that.  Until they get aggressive on offense the Spartans are what they are.  It’s time to become what they can be.

If the Spartans continue their current course they will lose the next four games.  That puts them out of a bowl.  Even Saban who loves the smash mouth approach went to a pass to run philosophy against LSU the second time last year.  It was the only team in which is Tide didn’t have the overwhelming talent advantage.

Dantonio must take a long hard look.  The offensive philosophy is reflected in the play calling.  Play calling isn’t the issue, the philosophy is.  I love pound green pound.  That can be your foundation, but winning has to be your ultimate goal.  The Spartans must go on the attack and as long as teams follow Saban’s example that is through the air.

Only one man can change the situation.  Only one man has the power and that man, Mark Dantonio, must do it to save his season.

About Hondo S. Carpenter Sr.

View all posts by Hondo S. Carpenter Sr.
Hondo S. Carpenter, Sr. is the founder and publisher of SpartanNation.com and all of the family of services. The idea was birthed when overseas he ran into a Spartan not native to the United States who was wearing his Green and White proudly. He is dedicated to bringing you the latest and greatest information about Michigan State and Detroit Sports News every day. He resides in the Mid Michigan area. Follow Hondo on twitter here: @hondocarpenter.


8 Responses to “To Save The Season, Mark Dantonio Must Put His Spartans on the Attack” Subscribe

  1. Faygo October 14, 2012 at 2:01 pm #

    Season is gone. Fire Roushar now; bench Maxwell for Cook after the next two losses (Michigan, Wisconsin).

    I’m over 60, and can’t recall a more disappointing season. I predicted the Iowa loss in OT, and hoped I was wrong. I wasn’t. Thanks for your site,though.

  2. st8grad October 14, 2012 at 2:06 pm #

    Agreed. Something that I had suspected all along, but thought maybe that philosophy was simply because of what they had to work with.

    Given that, I have always thought stubborn to a fault with the run and I thought Saban saying that would have caused the light bulb to go off.

    I think proof that this is driven too much by coach D is when Treadwell was the head man and calling plays while Dantonio recovered. That Wisconsin game was beautifully called. Balanced, aggressive, dimensional. Upon coach Ds return, conservative, run determined, and predictable.

    I love being a power run team. But they need to attack what the D will give them. Against Bama, over the top would have been key. We still would have lost, but the didn’t exploit the weakest area of the Bama D. Weak by comparison mind you.

    To me, some position coaches must go. Roushar either goes back to line coach or they get a new one. Receivers? I would say rb coach too. They were much better under Enos.

    Also, we need him back in EL immediately. Good coach, great recruiter, great passion, and killer visors.

    Either way, it’s going to be a rough ride to the end. If they can bring this team together, change philosophy, and somehow beat UM, then it can end OK. If not, and most likely not, we will lose out. They are close to losing this team if it hasn’t happened already.

    Not good times.

  3. Brent October 14, 2012 at 3:28 pm #

    I thought of Saban, too, when it was second and eight during the first overtime. He would have been more aggressive, I’m sure of it, than what we did: running Bell between tackles. He’s have done play-action and gone for the endzone with a tightend being covered one on one. Something like that. Taking it to them..

    I left a comment on another website, saying the OC is in over his head. His success the past couple of years is truly due to his outstanding leadership and talent he had on offensive.

    I think now that unproven guys who don’t have a leader are out there, he simply is incapable of coming up with a gameplan to build success, score first downs, and move the chains. The wheels have come off the bus.

    And our high expectations make it all the more painful.

    We need to replace Roushar as OC and hire a new and innovative guy. My pick out of the hat is a protege of the success Chip Kelly has had, Derek Sage, the receivers coach at Wyoming.

    He could come in as OC/receivers coach and turn this offensive into something more spread out. Our fear of attacking the middle of the field is pathetic.

    And the poor play of experienced OLinemen shows me that they’ve regressed. What’s going on with Mark Staten?

    • Brent October 14, 2012 at 3:32 pm #

      I meant to say second and _two_ in the first ovetime.

  4. John October 14, 2012 at 8:58 pm #

    Hondo, you laid it out perfectly. I hope CMD reads it. This loss was not fair to the team. Good coaches take advantage of what opposing defenses are giving them. When the hurry-up is working, use it until they stop it! When the run is working, same! If QB draws are working, same! I have not seen MSU manhandle another team like that, and still manage to lose….ever. Unbelievable.

  5. Pete October 14, 2012 at 11:13 pm #

    Sorry, folks, but this season is already over. MD distanced himself from his players with his faces and his gestures and his refusal to take a chance when they knew they were losing what little advantage they had. He’s not going to get them back anytime soon. The best he can do is to start playing for next year.

    MD should pick a quarterback that can run because his Oline can’t play the pro style he wants to play. They just aren’t good enough now and there is no one among the Frosh who is going to make a difference in the years to come. His line of bull about getting kids more prepared for the next level because of the way he coaches should end right now. His game plans for both offense and defense are as far removed from successful pro coaching as RichRod was and I can guarantee you that RichRod will win a Rose Bowl before MD. For the sake of the players and the fans, he should pick his best players to finish out this year (notice I didn’t say athletes) because you can trust football players to at least try to do their jobs. Athletes, on the other hand, are just out there because they have instincts and talent, but they don’t necessarily have skills or even know what they’re doing. MSU just can’t afford to be let down by guys who don’t know what they’re supposed to do on the field and that includes coaches.

    Maybe next year things will improve but, for right now, MSU fans, start following basketball or hockey because if you invest any trust or emotion in the football program, you will regret it. MD might very well be a good guy at heart but he does not have a good football mind and he’s too insecure to hire people that do. We are heading back to the bottom and it doesn’t feel good.

  6. michael October 15, 2012 at 4:20 pm #

    I got a “board warning” in the Forum for saying exactly what you have written,in September, although I should not have spelled out B.S!. Still, it was very plain early on, this team was committed to “pound”, and refuses to abandon it. This offense is a total joke, and CAN NOT be played in this day and age,except by maybe Nick, when he has the “horses” to do so. If he doesn’t, he goes to other options. He learned his lesson, when will Mark?

  7. hjb7549 November 5, 2012 at 8:47 am #

    In response to all the comments last week, the Spartans Did Not save the season, because the offense was ineffective when it counted.

    All of us who were at the game know that this was another win-able game and once again the Offense cost us a victory. The total lack of imagination of MSU’s offense was pathetic. Time after time the predictable Spartans ran left then right for 2-3 yards against a stacked-up defense and and could not sustain drives.

    Most importantly with four minutes to go they did not run out the clock and gave the Cornhuskers the opportunity to win the game….just like they did with Iowa, Ohio State, and Michigan. MSU should have tried to convert the fourth down with 1-1/2 yards to go with two minutes to go and keep Nebraska’s offense off the filed, because the worn-out defense just plain folded during the last drive…..leaving Spartan supporters embarrassed again.

    Dantonio can’t continue to cover up for his offensive coordinator. This team has let us all down because we do NOT have an efective offense. If they do not hire a real offensive coordinator this winter, maybe Dantonio needs to go too. Once again, in response to all the comments last week about how the Spartans could save the season, they DID NOT save the season, because the offense was ineffective when it counted. That falls on the offensive coordinator.

    I hate to say it but we will be lucky to have 60,000 fans in the stands for the last home game. That should be a signal to Hollis and Dantonio, I just pray they won’t continue to ignore it.