Coming off the 17-16 Bowl win over TCU, the Spartans finished 2012 at 7-6 and now begin preparing for 2013.

Offense

No unit let Spartan Nation down more than the Offense in 2012, and they know it.  The biggest issue the entire team faced in 2012 was the play of the Offensive Line, making their improvement a top focus of the off season.  After getting off to a bland start, the Line play went south in a hurry after injuries to starters Fou Fonoti and later Travis Jackson.  They steadied themselves somewhat towards the end of the year, but were far from good, and held the Offense back more than any other element of the unit.

The Line play wasn’t the only disappointment, however, as Wide Receiver drops plagued the Offense early in the year and then again for a chunk of the Bowl game.  It took Coach D too long to identify his best lineup, in part because he looked to stick with some players longer than he probably should have.  By the end of the year it was clear that Aaron Burbridge may well become a star, Bennie Fowler is finally healthy and rolling again, and that Keith Mumphrey arrived as the unit’s most reliable and possession based option.  The Wide Receiver position looks for major upgrade in production next fall, though each starter needs to keep pace because there’s going to be pressure behind from Tony Lippett, DeAnthony Arnett, and other younger guys like Monty Mandaris.

Poor line play and balky Wide Outs didn’t help Andrew Maxwell get going in his first year under Center.  His season was filled with flashes of brilliance, a couple notable comebacks, surprisingly few roll outs and even fewer Quarterback runs.  Then of course there was his absence in the final drive against TCU.  This season was very far from what the 4th year Junior expected, bringing many to question his development under this Coaching Staff, and quickly looking for answers.

Red-Shirt Freshmen Connor Cook got a look in the Bowl game early, which was planned.  It wasn’t planned that Cook would have the ball in his hands on the final drive with the Spartans down two.  But Maxwell and the Offense had struggled again all night, so Dantonio went with Cook since the unit looked livelier during his earlier drives that night.  We all know the result was the game winning Field Goal, which instantly sparked a QB controversy late that Saturday night.

Cook’s performance, though admittedly limited, at least presents the idea for an open starting QB competition 2013.  While it’s pretty hard to imagine a 5th year Senior will be supplanted by a Red-Shirt Sophomore or, younger (Tyler O’Connor of Damion Terry) guy, Maxwell’s struggle during the Bowl coupled with the Offense’s deep struggles have opened the door.

When you’re near the bottom of the country in scoring Offense, it’s hard to foresee too many positions truly “locked down” going into Spring.  The same should be said for members of the Offensive Coaching Staff whose units widely underperformed.  They’re now under a heightened level of scrutiny.  And since the Quarterback is the most important spot on that side of the ball, if not the entire team, it’s fair to have an open competition on an annual basis.  It would be a real surprise if Maxwell didn’t clearly separate himself from Cook and the Red Shirt Freshmen Tyler O’Connor.  While Coach D has typically given the nod to the younger player if guys were competing were essentially tied for the top spot, it’s yet to have really been tested at the Quarterback position.

This unit needs to improve drastically in 2013, which is kind of tough to count on given the defections to the NFL of their best two players, Le’Veon Bell and Dion Sims.  Still, significant improvement can result if they address their main issues up front.

One change in the backfield (the Tail Back to be determined) is probably going to be enough for this struggling unit to handle.  MSU struggled in 2009 when there were a handful of backs competing for the job during a good chunk of that year.  Hopefully it will be a thinner log jam this time around with a player or two separating themselves from the pack before Fall Camp.  It’s going to be hard enough to replace Bell, but the overall running game can improve if the Offensive Line can bounce back.  The 2013 Offense will only go as far as the Offensive Line lets them.

Defense

Pat Narduzzi led the 2012 Spartans to one of the best performances in school history, yet they only have 7 wins to show for it.  They don’t put the margin of loss or total Touchdowns allowed in the final standings.  You have to dig deeper to appreciate the full picture.  This is the unit, despite the loss of Will Gholston, will again lead the Spartans in 2013.

Up front, the Spartans never really replaced All-American Jerel Worthy, and it hurt that Tyler Hoover was lost for the season early on.  Hoover has been granted a rare sixth year of eligibility, so look for him to leave a stamp on the 2013 team along with Fou Fonoti on the opposite Line.  Whereas the 2012 team lacked leadership in key spots, the 2013 team should not be lacking in that department with those two veterans, a Senior Andrew Maxwell, and of course Max Bullough.

The rising Senior Captain will make it his purpose that 2013 does not repeat the bitter taste of 2012.  As good as the Defense performed in 2012, don’t look for them to even get a sniff of becoming “fat ‘n sassy” with Bullough leading things.  It’s his time, his last year, and he’s ready for it.  How he goes about demanding the urgency and focus from the whole locker room will play a significant role in how this team performs in 2013.

With so many other playmakers returning like Marcus Rush and Denicos Allen, you might think there’s not too many openings for new Spartan Dawgs.  Yet, as stocked as the Defense is (take the Linebacker position for example), look for guys to rotate in and out, and for the Snarlin’ Narduzzis to be on the hunt to give up even fewer points in 2013.

Before getting too worried that Will Gholston is gone, remember that Shilique Calhoun is coming back, Damon Knox and Joel Heath should be ready, and that there’s probably a couple others ready to get after it if they earn their shot.  A sign of this unit’s depth will be how little difference there is between a 2013 Gholstonless Defense and the couple of years before.

On the back end, MSU is loaded and stocked up to absorb the loss of Johnny Adams with future Sunday players Isaiah Lewis and Darqueze Dennard should lead with likely All-Big Ten (if not more) Senior years.  Some of the depth built up will reveal itself as players like R.J. Williamson take on bigger roles, hopefully with far less of the bloated and empty swagger that Adams made a staple.  And don’t forget about the 2012 class, which Coach D called his best backfield class to date.

The turnovers that were there in 2010 and 2011 need to return in 2013 to help what will again be a rebuilding Offense.  With a Defense that should be rock solid from front to back, interior to the edge, these Spartan Dawgs are looking to take another step.  In 2012 they tied with Notre Dame for giving up the least amount of Touchdowns to their opposition.  In 2013, they’ll have a good chance to go it alone.

Special Teams

As much as the Offense was a disappointment in 2012, the Special Teams unit was also a letdown.  This unit that was such a strength in the past years, most recently featuring current Texans’ Kick Returner Keshawn Martin, was mostly a flop in 2012.

As we discussed before 2012 kicked off, Dan Conroy was expected to be in positions to win games for the Spartans.  Early and often in 2012, he turned out to be there since the Offense couldn’t find the End Zone often, and the Defense kept games competitive.  But outside of the BW3 Bowl, Conroy came up short when needed most.  And in many of the Spartans’ 6 losses, Field Goals missed by the 5th year Senior ended up being the numerical difference.

MSU should have a big summer in the kicking game if they want to get back near the top of the Big Ten in 2013.  Next year’s Place Kicker battle looks like it will come between Kevin Muma, Mike Sadler (hey, if Brett Maher did it all at Nebraska, why can’t Sadler at least get a look), and Red Shirt Freshmen and mid-Michigan local Evan Fischer.  Kevin Muma should have his best year as a Senior, and look for Mike Sadler to defend his All-Big Ten Punter ranking.

Nick Hill came into 2012 as the Spartans go-to kick returner.  He was ready to step in for Martin returning punts too, but stumbled throughout the year.  First he lost his confidence, then he lost the handle on each return job.  It’s safe to assume each spot will be open for the likes of A.J. Sims, Jeremy Langford, Aaron Burbridge, and maybe a few others to get a good look at along with Hill.  MSU will need much more out of its Special Teams in 2013 in order to have a big bounce back year.  Though it will be hard to get back to the Martin days, 2012 lacked enough explosive plays needed from the Spartans’ return game, and entire Special Teams unit.

Overall

2012 will go down as one of the most frustrating “woulda-coulda-shoulda” seasons in school history.  The roster was seemingly loaded with enough talent to overcome the hefty departures of Kirk Cousins, B.J. Cunningham, Trenton Robinson, and many more.  It wasn’t.  It was a group that barely made a Bowl Game, but has started off 2013 the right way with a late come from behind victory over TCU.  The program foundation looked strong enough for MSU to solidify itself as a “Top 10” national program in 2012, but its instead been relegated back to a “not for prime time” status for now.

Fortunately, it’s all over now…for good.  It’s time to leave 2012 in the past, atop the reasonably sized pile of Spartan seasons lost.  2013 is already off to a solid start, and the program under Mark Dantonio should be mature enough to have already learned from the mistakes of last year, ready to move forward without reliving them all off season long.  We’ll begin to find out if this program is there a long seven months away.

Season Landmarks

High Point:  The comeback late at Madison to beat Wisconsin 16-13 in OT.  Though they followed it up with two close losses, the Maxwell led comeback over the rival Badgers was the biggest step towards qualifying this team for a Bowl game and eventually ending up 7-6.

Low Point:  Creation of the term “Iowa Flat” and the inexplicably dull performance against an Iowa team that only beat Northern Illinois, Northern Iowa, and Minnesota in addition to MSU in 2012.  This is arguably Dantonio’s worst loss as the Spartans’ Head Coach, never should’ve been a game of inches, and hopefully buried the resurrected Spartan Stadium “Woodshed” moniker in the dirt for good.

Turning Point:  Tie between Fou Fonoti’s injury late during Notre Dame week, which derailed the Offensive Line at the worst time, and the quick whistle on a Kurtis Drummond fumble recovery against Ohio St. that would’ve essentially sealed the win and steadied the Spartans ship to 4-1 heading into October.

P.A.T. (Perhaps Another Thought…)

  1. No matter who the starting Quarterback is next year, the development of a backup must become a priority.  MSU stunted its growth in 2012 by failing to provide any real game action for Andrew Maxwell in the prior two seasons while Kirk Cousins took hundreds of snaps he didn’t need to take.  The same mistake should not and cannot be repeated.
  2. If the Offensive Line does not show significant improvement in the first four games next year leading into the Bye Week, a significant change needs to be made at that time like Brett Bielema made during the season for Wisconsin in 2012.  The Spartans cannot afford anything but significant progress up front if they wish to compete for Championships during the middle portion of this decade.
  3. If the Spartans bounce back with a 10-win season in 2013, a lot of the damage sustained in 2012 will be smoothed over much the way the 49-7 Alabama ambush in the Citrus Bowl doesn’t look all that bad as we reflect back at the surrounding Alabama National Titles.  Though all the carnage of 2012 won’t be swept away and forgotten, the great bulk of it could be put off in the distance if Dantonio can lead the Spartans back to the 10 win club.
  4. Most of the better teams in College Football next year won’t dominate a single game as much as Alabama owned the National Title game.  I can think of dozens of College teams that should digest that for humility and keep it with them thorough out 2013 to avoid over celebrating or creating false hype.  Go levy a 1st Half Knockout in the National Title Game, then you can go strut and yap all you want.

*Let me near all about it inside the Phalanx Forum and @JPSpartan

Jon Schopp is a senior writer for Spartan Nation across all platforms. Jon joined Spartan Nation in the spring of 2009, and has since written extensively on MSU Football and Basketball. He is known primarily for the Spartan Nation Weekly column. He practices law in Atlanta, GA. You can follow and interact with him on Twitter @JPSpartan.


18 Responses to “Spartan Football: The Outlook Moving Forward…2013” Subscribe

  1. Pete January 13, 2013 at 1:54 am #

    Sorry, this article doesn’t go far enough;

    1.) You can have a bad offensive line and a running quarterback or a good offensive line and a pocket passer or, in a perfect world, a good offensive line and a running quarterback. You can’t have a bad offensive line and a pocket passer and hope to be successful. If they stick with Maxwell, next year will be more disappointing than this year.
    2.) It’s the coaches responsibility to find the players on his team and to play them even if it means some of the 4 star recruits have to sit and take lessons and true freshmen have to play. Dantonio failed in that he didn’t put his best team on the field this year. You and I will never know what player might have made a difference but you can be sure that, out of 100 possibilities, there were a few guys who could block more consistently or run a decent pattern and catch a pass more often or run back a punt or kickoff for more than a few yards. If you want to know why there are toxic parents, have coaches who cover their tracks by sticking with the fair haired boys and the “system” even when it doesn’t work.
    3.) Special teams weren’t just bad, they were non-existent. They didn’t rush the other team’s punter, block for their punter or returner, or tackle the other team’s returner hard enough to cause fumbles. Conroy’s bad year was directly related to poor snaps, poor blocking, and poor strategy. Incidentally, the punt returner (Sims) should have gotten a purple heart. If any MSU coach says anything about how much they know or care about special teams, they should be sued by the fan base for dereliction of duty. It was that bad.
    4.) This business of blaming the administration for not giving you enough money to hire good coaches has to stop. If you can’t afford to improve your coaching talent with experienced and innovative coaches, get young and innovative coaches. Don’t stick with experienced failures and tell us that that’s all you can afford. If you want to win, roll the dice on a few younger guys who are hungry and can recruit kids. You’re not getting anywhere fast with the good old boys.
    5.) The Iowa game showed that this coaching staff is a lot closer to losing a lot of games than winning a lot of games. They don’t trust the talent and maturity of their players. They don’t trust each other’s judgement. My question to MD is; If that’s what you think of yourselves and your players, why don’t you fix the problem? Iowa, in my opinion, was worse than the worst JLS loss in that Dantonio refused to try anything that involved risk and played the game hoping Iowa would make a mistake. That’s not competitive athletics.

    I don’t want to hear how the coaches “might” incorporate more quarterback read options or how the coaches think the same players who couldn’t make plays when they needed to this year are somehow going to improve by leaps and bounds next year. Tell me what you’re going to do to revamp the offense without Bell and to get the defense to perform in the clutch. Otherwise, tell me nothing (because that’s really what you’re doing anyway).

    • Spartan Blood January 13, 2013 at 12:09 pm #

      1. Your final statement would be an incredible indictment on the 4 years they spent on Maxwell.

      2. I don’t know that the team didn’t play their best players for the large part of the season, but I do think the WRs needed a much quicker hook earlier in the year. Beyond that, I have no knowledge that they were not playing those that earned time.

      3. You’re right about ST, it wasn’t just the specialists, it was the coverage units as well. Surprising step back, almost looked complacent in spots.

      4. Can’t disagree, and there’s more younger hungrier minds that ever before, but the continuity of this staff is what it is to date.

      5. I don’t know that Iowa was worse than the OSU game that broke JLS’s back, or the ND one not far before it. But I understand what you’re saying. It was a startling immature performance, reminding me of some of the bad Saban losses that Coach D was around for.

      We appreciate the thoughts you put out there.

    • John January 13, 2013 at 11:25 pm #

      Pete, you should’ve written the article for Spartan Nation. Nice take, and I agree 100%.
      @Ryan, as long as they’re 11-1, 10-2, this year, I don’t care how they do it. An 11-1 record obviously shows they found a way to get the 11 W’s. Defense wins championships. And this year, a Championship caliber defense was wasted on Dantonio’s loyalties to terrible Offensive coaches. I’ll take an ugly 11-1 season vs. what we ended up with in 2012 any day. If you’re a elite coach, you’ll still find a way to improve upon an ugly 11-1 season. I love coach D, but he does not have that go for the throat killer instinct that I wish he had. What I’ve seen now, is he’s too loyal for me. I hope he can get a little more aggressive now in his 7th year of tenure. I’m praying for 2 trips to the Rose Bowl before he and/or Narduzzi leave.

  2. Tyler January 13, 2013 at 2:42 am #

    Hey Pete,
    I can agree with the majority of what you mentioned, but at the same time i think this judgment of the Spartans is a little too quick to deploy. This season has hurt us all really bad, my eyes sting from the painful home games i attended and watched (season ticket holder), but at the same time i take a moment to review the games and realize that perhaps we became a little too overhyped and misjudged the inexperience this team was dealing with. Not saying you are wrong, in fact you are spot-on with most of the problems the program is facing, but being an optimistic Spartan fan i can expect a year of growth and experience will put this team I’m a much prettier position. Also don’t forget that this struggling team and coaching staff was only 13 points away from us judging them in a totally different way. Coulda woulda shoulda statement… I know, but i can’t help but feel excited for this next season! My biggest complaint is the sound system for the new scoreboards, a little lacking on the quality scale. It also wouldn’t hurt to put more creativity in the thunderstruck entrance video, but who am i to complain, I’m no video tech expert.

    • Spartan Blood January 13, 2013 at 12:11 pm #

      Not only does the soundsystem need to be ironed out, the entire audio entertainment program needs to be tossed aside and started a new by a professional with a game plan, some taste, and an idea of how to create a better atmosphere.

      The days of playing club music from the mid 00s and other hacky noise need to go. Get a clue, get a plan, and make the SS atmosphere what it can be, not a running joke.

  3. Tyler January 13, 2013 at 2:48 am #

    Edit: i meant to say “in a much prettier position” not “I’m.” Blame my smartphone….

  4. H J Buter January 13, 2013 at 2:56 am #

    Pete’s assessment is closer to reality than Spartan Nation. This team was an offensive disaster. If Dantonio can’t make the changes to his offensive staff like Bielman did at Wisconsin or even Sabin did by replacing his offensive coordinator, then Dantonio is not the leader we thought he was. In five years Perles rebuilt State into a Rose Bowl team.

    This team should have and could have won 10 or 11 games in the regular season. Without Sims and Bell, next year is looking really grim unless Dantonio steps up. If he does not hire a real offensive coordinator and get improved line and receivers coaching, our team will look a lot more like Smith’s teams than Daugherty’s…..and that is not acceptable to those of us writing multi-thousand dollar checks.

    Now is the time for major changes and Spartan supporters need to demand them!
    Jim

  5. Ryan January 13, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    I agree, if this is what we’ve been waiting for all year (“What Went Wrong”), its weak at best. Yes calling out Staten and ultimately MD to do what Bret did is refreshing, but otherwise, nothing juicy here…

    • Spartan Blood January 13, 2013 at 12:13 pm #

      This is not that article at all. It’s the final Outlook article that I’ve written every week since the end of August.

      What Went Wrong will likely have that title. tOMF is my regular title throughout the season. Tune back in next August, or look back at what I’ve said earlier this year and let me know if we were seeing the same things.

  6. michael January 13, 2013 at 10:05 am #

    And so it begins…….

  7. Ryan January 13, 2013 at 10:05 am #

    And besides, we win all those close games that we lost by a total of 13 points, and we’re theeee worst 11-1 team in the history of college football. We’re fortunate we didn’t slide by and into a big BCS game this year. The B1G was without question down this season and the only team on our schedule that truly kicked our butt, got embarrassed on National TV by Alabama. We were a 6-8 win team, period.

  8. Gary January 13, 2013 at 10:21 am #

    I believe this is the same info we received last year, how everyone is so good, in reality, the coaching is poor and the talent is suspect with the exception of Bullock. Starting Maxwell after this poor performance year only confirms they don’t know what they are doing.

    • Spartan Blood January 13, 2013 at 12:16 pm #

      Not the same info as last year. Last year at this time I thought MSU could run the ball on all 3 downs all year and win no less than 8 games. No one thought the line would fall apart, WRs would take a while to calm down, nor did anyone see Iowa Flat becoming a possibility.

      The talent sure isn’t very suspect, I don’t know where that came from. Talent is among the least suspicious things around Spartan Football right now.

  9. st8grad January 13, 2013 at 10:23 am #

    How quick our fans forget back to back 11 win seasons. A technicality kept us from the Rose Bowl in 2010. MD brought us a B1G title in 2010, Legends Division title and the first B1G championship game appearance. The first banners we have even sniffed in 20 years. I am as upset as anyone with the outcome of this season, and there were plenty of mistakes made from top to bottom on this team. However, a year of experience CAN make a huge difference. Saban’s MSU team went 6-6 in 1998, then 10-2 in 1999. OSU 6-6 in 2011, 12-0 in 2012. The examples are endless. To continually point out Coach B firing his line coach as the way MD needs to be is silly. Wisconsin would have been nowhere without OSU/PSU probation.

    If nothing else, they have earned our trust that they will fix the issues. I remember Narduzzi’s first season – aggressive, disruptive, and sound. Then the next two seasons everyone wanted his head. The personnel at the time couldn’t execute. It wasn’t his fault as our shortsighted fans can now see.

    Give them a chance. Things will turn back around.

  10. Ryan January 13, 2013 at 10:38 am #

    I love coach D and am a MD supporter through and through. He won me over when he mocked Mike Hart and personally rejuvenated the almost dead rivalry with Michigan. I’m just speaking as an informed fan and although we shouldn’t expect 11 win seasons every year, we really shouldn’t have even won 6 this one. We had no business beating IU, they were clobbering us, and the Wisky game could have easily went their way. Omg, did I just point out a potential 4 win season?!?!?

  11. SGTSparty January 14, 2013 at 8:01 am #

    The o-line play was clearly and issue (read trainwreck) this year. That said, coming in to the year we all talked about the experience we were bringing back up front. Then we lost guys to injury, as the Angry MSU O-Line Hating God stuck again and again and ended up playing 8 guys, several and multiple positions. I’m not making excuses here, it needs to be next man up, and both players and coaches need to make sure that happens. But that said, are we having the same conversation if we play the same front 5 all year? O-line talent has always been an inssue and we need to recruit some studs and build depth, but lets not forget how much platooning went on this season.

  12. TJ January 14, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

    Folks, let’s not jump ship yet. This was a 7-6 team that loss 5 games by a total of 13pts. After 11-2 and 11-3 seasons the coaching staff has earned a pass this season. We loss alot of NFL caliber players from a team that beat Georgia (yes an SEC team). We missed Cousins extending plays, Martin’s return abilities, BJ’s big catches, and Jerel Worthy’s FIRST STEP off the ball which often threw off the other team’s execution of their play.

    This year we lose Bell, Gholston, Sims, Conroy, AR White, Adams, Norman and McDonald. With the exception of Sims, all can be replaced and upgraded. We have quality depth everywhere. Bell will be replaced with a much faster running back who can hit a home run from 70yds out versus Bell who often gave us spectacular 10-20yds runs that didn’t put points on the board. I think the many people looked at his rushing yards and saw success but those yards didn’t often translate to TDs. Nevertheless, Bell did get yards when he had nothing. AR White, Gholston, Conroy, Adams, Norman, and McDonald you can say had subpar seasons.

    The bright side of this coming spring is the fact Dantonio had the guts to finally change to Conner Cook late the bowl game. Whether or not Cook is the answer, it shows now maybe the coaching staff will open up the competition at every position going into 2013. Let’s face it, there were breakdowns from play calling, QB position, O-line, dropped passes, D-line (no production from the DT position) and don’t forget the offense had the lead late in the Michigan and Nebraska games. We also had bad calls that went against us late in the Nebraska and Ohio state games. So let’s chalk it up as a total team effort in the 7-6 record and move on.

    We drop Ohio St. and Wisconsin in 2013 and add Purdue and Illinois (2 teams still rebuilding under new coaching staffs). I’m confident we’ll circle the wagons and rebound this season. Anything less than an Outback Bowl invite in 2013 would be a disappointment.

  13. Alicia January 15, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

    Great article!!