Taking the Time to Look at the MSU Wide Receivers
Not every MSU WR had a bad game on Friday. I apologize to those who didn’t. This article is about them as a group, and as a group, they were terrible.
The MSU WR group took a ton of grief for the 2012 season. They should have. They deserved it. With well over 60 dropped passes (66 to be exact), they let the team down and more importantly, themselves. They talked about the drops as soon as the season ended and all spring.
In fact, I had a conversation with Bennie Fowler and wrote about it on April 22, 2013. He told me about drops. “We remind each other every day. Drops aren’t acceptable and that‘s why we hard on each other, we get on each other that catching every pass you can’t take it for granted.”
Fowler was even asked late last April what he was doing well and he said, “Catching the ball with my hands, not letting the ball come into my body at all.”
I don’t think he was being deceiving. I believe what he said last April, but this is the regular season now and his group failed in, what we will politely call, embarrassing fashion. Fowler led the way with drops Friday night and stunningly NOT using his hands.
You can’t sugarcoat it. You can’t bury your head in the sand and act as if the horrific and pathetic play of the wide receivers isn’t front and center to this Spartan offense and the terrible game one performance. I am sorry, I understand that Andrew Maxwell has to create better, but he had some amazing passes that hit guys…wait for it…wait for it…IN THE HANDS AND BODY. They simply didn’t do their part.
I am not afraid to call a coach or a player out, but Dave Warner called many plays that weren’t executed. When his offense doesn’t perform that is on Warner and his position coaches, but sorry they can’t call the play and make the play. I have said many times and I maintain something Bobby Bowden once told me, “If a play happens and a guy is in the right spot, and you have on the right play you can’t blame coaching if he doesn’t make the play.” I agree.
If I am Dantonio I am pulling my hair out. I wrote on many occasions how every time I was in the Duffy this off season I saw wideouts working out. I watched drills closely when allowed and saw guys catching the ball BUT, what matters is what happens during the games, under the bright lights, and CLEARLY, MSU is not getting it done.
If this was the first time or even an inexperienced group like last year I don’t like it, but I understand it. Not this year. Not this group. Not now. The window is closing on a once in a generation defense. Not every single problem with the offense is wide receiver related, but this group rests squarely in the cross hairs. They aren’t performing at a top MAC level, let alone a Big Ten team with expectations of any bowl, let alone an elite one. Plain and simple, the wide receiving group’s performance as a whole on this team stinks.
Now, that is not on a personal level. I know many of them and their families and I like them. They are fine young men whom make their families and friends proud. Yet, there are plenty of fine young men attending MSU NOT on athletic scholarship. PERIOD. Our wide receivers get those scholarships with expectations of performance and they aren’t. Plain and simple…as a group.
Just like I alluded to knowing what the QBs offer and giving a look to other players, are you telling me that letting guys continue to make the same mistakes is OK because no one else on your roster can make a play?
A.J. Sims was the first drafted WR at one point in the spring draft. Friday night he made a devastating block for Bennie Fowler downfield and made a great catch (albeit out of bounds) on a poorly thrown ball. I understand he is undersized, but when those with the size aren’t catching, why not? He is on a scholarship. Are there others that are part of this maligned group that haven’t earned a chance? Why others continue to make the same mistakes aren’t those young men worthy of even a chance?
Fowler (a senior wide receiver) was asked in April if improvements mattered in the spring. His frank answer still resonates as correct today. He said plainly and matter of fact, “In September and August is where it matters the most.” I agree and we are in that time and the MSU wide receivers failed. Period. No sugar coating and no embellishment. They failed. It has now bleeding into a second season. Sure MSU won, but is this team, this program, and this fan base willing to just win against a WMU team that had no business being close with them? I do not think so.
A visibly disgusted Dantonio said after the game, “We got opportunities, we got balls in the air, we’ve got opportunities to catch the football. We’ve got to catch the football. It’s not something we’ve seen in summer camp, so it can be straightened out. As we move through it, we can’t make mistakes and beat ourselves.” He went on to add, “I thought the ball was on the money numerous times and you’ve got to make the catch. It’s pretty simple. We’ve got to have more explosive plays and by that I mean 15 to 20-yard plays.”
Dantonio’s plainspoken evaluation continued saying, “You’ve got to come up with a tough catch sometimes and quite frankly there were a number of them that hit them square in the numbers that you’ve got to make. “ He also said, “Well, I thought we played about seven wide receivers tonight. I thought a couple of times the wide receivers got the ball on reverses and had the opportunity to run, stick their foot in the ground and get north, and they did not. It’s harsh, but that’s life sometimes. I’m not here to beat anybody down, but I’m here to call it as I see it.”
He is responsible for his offense, but I for one did not think Dave Warner had a bad night. His unit did, but these aren’t eight year olds. They are scholarship young men and his comments were stunningly and refreshingly frank. He said, “Very disappointing for us as an offensive football team, I think that’s pretty obvious. We put a big emphasis, going all the way back to spring practice, on not making mistakes as far as the penalties, throwing and catching the ball with a high percentage, which we didn’t do, and creating big plays, which we didn’t do. Those were probably the three big things that stand out in my mind. Very disappointed, but we will show up tomorrow and get back to work with the idea of moving forward and making the corrections that need to be made.”
He was asked what he was most frustrated with and his wideouts should have been listening. “Probably the pass game. They were packing the box and we had a lot of man coverage out there and for various reasons we did not throw and catch the ball with a high percentage. We didn’t have big plays in the pass game and that probably sticks out above anything.”
Was he surprised? “I’m surprised. Throughout the past couple weeks I thought we had done a good job in camp and our receivers were catching the ball well and being very effective.”
After watching the film, Mark Dantonio had plenty more to say on Sunday night. Talking about the wide receivers he said, “We need to create more plays down the field, whether that is catching the ball and moving with it or getting loose down the field. So I’ll leave it at that.”
He added, “But we can play better, we will play better, and I was disappointed in the outcome as well as everyone else. Some catches were tough catches to make, other catches were defended somewhat. Need to do a better job of separation or route running, and there were quite frankly a number of them that were dropped. So I call it as I see it. But our players understand that they need to play better as well. I’m sure they recognize that fact as well.”
Dantonio has zero concerns about his defense other than them growing frustrated with another anemic offense. He admitted that he spent almost all of his time with the offense this off season and it has to continue.
Dantonio saw nothing this off season that would have warranted a fear that this group would perform the way they did Friday. Neither did I. He also said it can be fixed. I agree with that. Fans, players, and coaches can have grace for young guys getting chances, but not guys who continue to make the same mistakes.
Fowler is the leader, but this wasn’t all on him. Poor route running, mental breakdowns, missed blocks, and not getting separation against a WMU team for guys playing who aren’t in their first year are inexcusable.
Here is what made it worse. Coach Fleck from WMU called them out. He said on my radio show that he would take his defensive backs over the MSU wide outs. Think about that, because he was right. If the offense doesn’t somehow get better immediately, the Spartans are going to continue to be stacked at the point of attack, and as long as they perform at the level they did on Friday, nothing will change.
This isn’t about talent. They have speed. They all have brains that allowed them to get into college. This is about pride. They were embarrassed. They should have been if they weren’t. They played against a group of young men who couldn’t get scholarships to this level of school…who had one thing that their group didn’t show: heart.
While they jumped up complaining for flags or picked up stupid personal fouls, the Broncos celebrated. They dared MSU to throw. They wanted MSU to throw. They prayed extra hard in chapel before the game that MSU would attack them in the air. WMU lost the game because the Spartan defense refused to lose. Not because the offense mattered. The MSU offense can’t make a bowl if the wideouts play as bad as they did Friday all season.
If WMU prayed for MSU to go to the air, how about Notre Dame, Michigan and Wisconsin?
Someone has to care. Someone has to have heart. Someone has to say not on my watch. I am sick of the screaming for a flag because you can’t make a catch. Here is a novel idea…Catch the ball. I remember once asking Blair White about a team holding him incessantly and the fact he got no flags. “I take that as a sign of respect. Who would have thought I would make the field and now they have to do that? It just makes catching it all the more rewarding.” And he did.
The MSU wideouts need to look at all the pictures of great Spartan wideouts that are on the walls of their position room. Lots of them. MSU has a storied history of great ones. They embarrassed those men last Friday. I don’t want to hear anything else. Your play is deafening.
They are good young men. This isn’t about their character. It is about doing their job and they aren’t. Make plays or sit the bench. People don’t care how fast your 40 time is or how many scholarship offers you had coming out of high school. Mark Dantonio played seven wideouts. Not one stood out. I would rather see the 300# Henry Conway at the X, a young man who is all heart, who will leave it all on the field than one more crying wideout looking for a flag or another drop by a receiver. ENOUGH.
Not getting separation against WMU is about as absurd as walking out of Brody Cafeteria still hungry.
I bet we would find some 130 or 330 pound engineering student paying his own way to school or some kids in the marching band both struggling to find their next tuition payment who would have at least shown up.
Coaches get fired when they don’t perform; this isn’t 4th grade where everyone gets a trophy. I am a results-oriented person and they didn’t produce. It wasn’t the first time. NEXT MAN UP PLEASE.
You only have two easy games left. Two. This group didn’t do it against WMU. Take a seat, give someone else a shot. After you exhausted your wideouts, then try defensive backs, the trumpet player, the Waterboy, Zeke, but MSU has been a wideout factory. Friday they looked like a clown factory.
Their teammates deserve better, their coaches deserve better, and frankly, the Spartan Nation deserves better. We saw this last year and didn’t like it. The sad truth is that you can’t keep giving playing time to the same people and expecting different results. What message does that send?
Fowler is right. It is about performing NOW. Can they? Will they? We won’t know until next Saturday against South Florida. We need wide receivers to show up next week…we can only hope they will.