Mark Dantonio’s track record affords him the opportunity to do whatever he wants when it comes to running his football program. Those who understand how bad it was when he arrived in East Lansing can truly appreciate the job he has done. He also is fortunate to work for an Athletic Director who no matter how good or how bad a program is doing, he stays out. That is a good thing.
So as the Spartans find themselves in an offensive conundrum it was the praise that Mark Dantonio had for his defense that best spelled out his true offensive problems. Dantonio is lauded nationally as a defensive genius and I asked him how good his current group is. It was while he was answering that question that he spelled out the backbone of the Spartans best side of the ball.
“…think the thing that we see here defensively is we’ve got a system in place. Our players understand the system. We have a staff in place that understands how to correct a system if it breaks down. We can fix it. It can be fixed game time.” He nailed the biggest reason that his defense succeeds, but at the same time put the glaring spotlight on his offense.
After struggling last season offensively and two games in to this year the above praise for the defense is the exact opposite of the offense. Not only can they not fixed it come game time, they had last season, some changes, a spring and fall camp and two games so far this campaign and the problems persist.
He said about the offense that, “You look at us offensively; obviously everybody understands or acknowledges that aspect. We got to find our rhythm. I don’t think there’s any question about that.” He isn’t trying to duck and hide. That is part of the reason he is so successful.
Dantonio is not a liar. He will take the bull by the horns. He was blunt about those asking if his offense lacks players. I disagree with those people and so does Dantonio. He said, “I still maintain that our players, they have the athletic ability to make plays.”
Dantonio went on to add about his offensive talent that, “I think we did that running the football on Saturday. We can still do it more.” He continued with, “I do believe we have the personnel. I believe we’re two games into our season. We have two bye weeks. We have 12 weeks left in our season. That’s why it’s important to find a young player, to give him that opportunity because he can mature greatly in the course of two, three, four weeks.”
I think just like Dantonio strives to be fair, he and every fan, media member, player or anyone connected to Spartan football has the right to ask those same questions on the offensive side. Clearly the track record of the last 15 games says that it isn’t working. Does that mean it is broken? He doesn’t think so.
“Do I have the confidence we can get things structurally fixed? Yes, I do. When I ask the tough questions, ask, What are we doing that we weren’t doing when Kirk Cousins was here when we led the conference in passing? The answer is, These are the things we’re doing. Trying to add some different things to add some different things to our personnel a little bit. Within the main framework of what we have been are the things that we are trying to do. It’s not like we’re conjuring up something brand‑new and failing at those things. We have a system in place to do that.”
For those of us that understand and know Dantonio well, he is a man of structure. He loves it and he craves it. For as much as a people bemoan what they think is a lack of creativity he is man that called, “Little Giants,” “Mouse trap” and various other gutsy calls. In fact, he loves the aggressive down the field with the passing attack. There is an element of Al Davis in him.
He isn’t running. I think after this long of an opportunity to repair the MSU offense that the microscope has to be set on his staff. He agrees with me. He said this on Tuesday. “…there’s got to be the structure conceptually to lead. I’m not taking ourselves off the hook on this either as coaches. We’re involved in this, too. We have to make decisions. We’re also involved in what’s being called, how it’s being called, how it’s being run. We’re constantly evaluating that, too.”
Whoever Mark Dantonio plays at QB is his call. If Tyler O’Connor is going to be passed over for one red-zone mistake in my effort to mirror Dantonio’s commitment to being fair how about some of the play calling? Including in the red zone. Riley Bullough is a big bruising back who isn’t a jet sweep or a wildcat type player and those kind of play calls were just atrocious.
If O’Connor can get called out for redzone mistake in his first collegiate game, what do you say to a staff getting PAID a significant amount of money making blunders like that? He didn’t bat and eye.
“He was the wrong guy in on a jet sweep. On the wildcat, the ball bounced. Got tracked down there. I think when you look at play calling and everything, it’s always going to be extremely subjective whether it works or doesn’t work. You can make it objective and say, That was a good call, that was a bad call. There’s so many moving pieces out there, it’s hard to evaluate was that a good call or good execution. Usually it’s a combination of both.
Double reverse for 31 yards. Good trick play, good time to do it. I think we had the right play called down on second‑and‑two. Bad execution on the three. Went for it on fourth down. Right play called. Got to find more passing. Got to have more passing lanes than what we’ve done, things we’ve always done. I guess we’re all going to be evaluated if it works or if it doesn’t work to some degree.”
He went on to say, “Obviously we need to get better. But I’m not going to sit here and criticize it, just like I’m not sitting here and criticizing our quarterbacks. It just has to get better. I’m going to protect my people. I’ve said that before. Usually when you do that, you end up taking all the hits. But that’s what I’ve tried to do.”
Dantonio is honorable in protecting his players and staff, but more than one person in the Duffy has communicated to me through this crisis that behind closed doors people aren’t protected. They know he is hot under the collar and he is looking for answers. At the end of the season he has to ask some really tough questions.
He isn’t Mack Brown (thank God) but this staff is auditioning right now to return next season. The MSU offensive staff has to be under the microscope more than any QB or any player, PERIOD. That is reality.
Dantonio said it best, “I still maintain that our players, they have the athletic ability to make plays. We got to find a rhythm. I also believe when we do, it will turn when we do, there will be a momentum surge, not just for the offense but for our entire football team. That will reenergize this football team to its capacity. That’s what we got to look to do.”
I agree with him 100%. Here is the question. Is this staff the ones to search out, fix the problem and find that rhythm? They recruited these players. They wanted them. It’s on them. This team is 2-0. Things could be a whole lot worse.
Right now these staff members have been given a chance to shine. They have a chance to emerge from the ashes of this offensive-offense with vision and with a plan. I know I trust Coach D. With this defense the Spartans offense doesn’t have to be Oregon. They don’t need to be Washington State. They also don’t need to be pathetic, abysmal and anemic.
While people will talk OL, Terry, Maxwell, Cook or O’Connor, Langford, Bullough or Hill, TE or WR I say keep your eye on the big picture. This head coach has earned the right to steer the ship in the storm. He will. The staff has the opportunity to prove to him right now that they are the answer or the problem. While the public watches the players right now, my eyes are on the offensive coaches.
We are not questioning character. We are not bemoaning the men they are outside of the Duffy or off the gridiron. This isn’t personal. I can attest to you they are good and fine men. This is about performance. Something they haven’t done at the level expected for this program at this time.
Just like Narduzzi did with the defense when he arrived at MSU the offensive staff has to prove they can do. The defensive side of the ball was FAR worse when Narduzzi arrived than the offensive side is today. FAR.
They sky hasn’t fallen. The sun is up and the Spartans are undefeated. Things could be a lot worse. Football is about performance. Next man up, or in this case next coach up.
Show us what you got gentleman. Coach Dantonio maintains that how you lead during adversity defines you. I agree with him. Here is your big chance. Fix this and some of you will get catapulted into head coaching jobs and be praised nationally for fixing a broken offense. If you don’t, you can see quickly where this is going.