Sunday, October 23, 2016

Thoughts on Maryland Game

I may be wrong about this (I'm too drained to actually verify it), but during the Big Ten Network's documentary on the Spartans this summer (Green and White Days) I believe I heard one of the MSU coaches talking about how tough it was to come back from vacation. And I remember thinking at the time: that's not a good attitude to have when you got robots like Harbaugh working around the clock to improve their programs, and it's not a good attitude to have when the rest of the Big Ten is working around the clock to improve. Yes, coaches should be able to spend time with their families, but the bottom line is that this is a profession in which your opponents are obsessed workaholics. If you don't obsess, you will fall behind. I do think that this helps explain what has happened this year. MSU got to the top, and then assumed they could stay there by coasting. They rested on their laurels. Yes, the team isn't as talented as usual, but the talent is better than 5 losses in a row. And you can see this team getting out-coached each and every week.

The seniors have failed this team. Apart from RJ Shelton, the seniors have underperformed, to say the least.

Speaking of RJ Shelton, he is going to be a star in the NFL, and people will wonder why we didn't hear much about him in college. That's because the coaches at MSU underutilized him. They don't seem to understand what they have in their hands. He needs to touch the ball at least 30 times against Michigan.

Khari Willis is a star and could become an All-American by next year.

Your season so often depends on surprises, good or bad. This year's important surprise has been the disastrous play of the linebackers. They were supposed to be the strength of this team and they have frankly looked below average. They are missing tackles, running into the wrong holes, and getting swallowed up by O-linemen.

The secondary was also supposed to be pretty good and yet continues to make big mistakes. We're talking about guys with a lot of experience!

Lewerke clearly has a lot of potential, but he is also clearly a freshman. He needs to throw with more confidence so that the ball will get to his receivers. If he can improve his accuracy and decision making, he has all the tools to be MSU's next NFL quarterback.

The fake field goal was a terrible decision. Geiger is kicking pretty well this year.

This team seems to always finds a way to blow good drives. Receivers fumble, penalties at terrible times, bad coaching decisions. It's unbelievable.

This team can move the ball, it just has to stop shooting itself in the foot. The running backs are looking pretty good, the receivers too. Lewerke should be good in a few games. This team can score points.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Thoughts on Northwestern Game: Coaching Still the Main Problem

Yes, the Spartans have a lot of holes in talent, but the disappointing results this season are still mostly about poor coaching.

The QBs and the O-line are average to below average, but we saw today that this offense can score points with the talent they have. Even Alabama takes a few long shots down the field, and at long last, MSU took a few shots down the field and it greatly paid off. I guess we can at least take some comfort in the fact that the OC seems to have learned some lessons. At this point, the OC might as well just open up the playbook and work his butt off every week to add wrinkles. This offense can and better score points the rest of season. There is no excuse.

The tragedy was seeing that this week it was the defensive coaching staff's turn to show an incredible inability to adapt. The inability to adapt was most clear when Northwestern's best receiver scored a ridiculously easy touchdown to put the game away. Matt Millen saw the danger before the play unfolded, I saw it, everybody saw it. And yet the defensive coaches who get paid the big bucks didn't see it. I don't know how that can happen. Is it stubbornness? I don't know...It just doesn't make sense.

The amazing thing is that this team is actually moving backwards on the fundamentals. How can the tackling be so poor for a Dantonio defense at this point in the season? How can the special teams be so out of position, multiple weeks. The bottom line is that while the talent is not championship level, the talent is simply not as bad as the results being produced. Coaching is the main problem this season.

Monday, October 10, 2016

A list of mistakes that may explain the rough season

I wanted to put together a short list of problems that I think have produced this extremely disappointing season.

First, I hate to call out specific coaches because you hate to see people's jobs in jeopardy, but people get paid big bucks for this and if MSU wants to build a winning program, these are things that need to be considered. The bottom line is that the offensive coordinator is simply blowing it in a lot of ways. He is not showing the ability to adapt to the talent at his disposal nor to adapt to the defenses MSU faces. I'm not a big fan of Lane Kiffin's personality, but he is a good model of what an OC should be. He has taken a true freshman quarterback and put him in a position to make plays. He even takes more risks with long bombs down the field with this freshman. Every offense needs to do that at least 3 times a game. He also found and exploited the weaknesses in the armor of the MSU defense last year. I thought MSU would be able to shut them down, but Kiffin first exploited MSU's weaknesses and then returned to the strengths of the Alabama offense to finish the game. It was brilliant. MSU's OC doesn't come close to doing these things. If things don't improve quickly, MSU must look for an OC that can adapt to circumstances.

Another self-inflicted wound comes in the form of receiver recruiting. MSU should have learned in 2012 that it needs veteran receivers to run its offense. Yet here we are again with young receivers that run the wrong routes and drop too many passes. I saw this coming 2 years ago and I couldn't believe that the coaches were making the same mistake. Admittedly, I allowed myself to overlook this weakness because of the talent of the freshman class. But let this be a lesson for the remainder of the Dantonio era: MSU does not win with young receivers. MSU better hope that this dictum does not extend to tight ends or next year could be another disaster.

The final self-inflicted wound I'll mention here is that future starting QBs have to get more reps in the middle of real games. TOC is a fifth year senior and somehow has less real game experience than many redshirt sophomore QBs in college football. That is simply inexcusable, especially since this coaching staff already went through this once, with Maxwell.

The fact that this coaching staff made the same mistakes twice (failing to recruit wide receivers and give young QBs more real game experience) shows that this coaching staff doesn't learn from its mistakes very well. And, going forward, that may be the most worrisome thing about this program.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Thoughts on BYU Game

OK, this season is over. BYU is not a great team but they dominated on both sides of the ball. MSU is now getting regularly dominated on both sides. I don't know how it came to this and I don't know how MSU recovers, even next year. What may disappoint me most about it is that I did not see this coming at all. I cannot believe how blind I was to all the holes on this team.

The biggest hole has to be the offensive play calling. It's predictable and lacking in any creativity. Why does this team have so much talent at receiver and tight end if you're not going to pass the ball? Why not let the quarterbacks run at least as often as BYU's QB runs? Why not get the ball to Shelton more often? He's the best playmaker on offense. This program needs to start cutting it loose. It just doesn't have the horses to do "pound green pound" this year. Let's make this easy. Why not just steal half of BYU's plays? Ironically, BYU is better at pound green pound than MSU. But they were also (like every other team MSU has played) able to run to the outside on MSU, while MSU did not (could not?) run to the outside on BYU. MSU has the players to do it, but the fact they don't suggests they can't think outside the "pound green pound" box. Let Shelton play running back some.

MSU's conservatism is hurting it's quarterbacks. I don't think I've seen this many timid QBs on one team at one time. These quaterbacks are so timid, they are waiting far too long for guys to get open. And that's giving defenders plenty of time to recover and make interceptions. That's what happened on Terry' interception. These guys need to start playing with more confidence and anticipate better when guys will be open. They also need to get better at throwing guys open. It's one thing to "manage" the game and protect the ball, it's another thing to scare your QBs into complete ineffectiveness.

I don't think O'Connor had a bad game, but he certainly didn't have the type of game that could help a struggling offense get going. The play calling hurt him, but I think Terry showed that his legs can help this offense a little more. I did not realize he was as fast as he is. With a few starts and some confidence, Terry's wheels could turn into something by the end of the season, and could turn into something big by next season.

On defense, teams are adjusting to McDowell's "leap to the outside." BYU ran several times up the spot he vacated. That move is effective sometimes, but it may be costing MSU some gap integrity.

Brandon Clemons needs to stay on defense. He was immediately more effective than all the other d-tackles, except McDowell.

Overall, the players are having issues with execution, but when MSU gets dominated this badly, week after week, you have to lay it on the coaching. MSU simply looks outclassed on both sides of the ball. I have never seen players look this confused or overmatched. Even Toledo put up a much better fight against BYU last week. So this is not a talent issue. Most of the blame has to lie with the coaches.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Thoughts on Indiana Game

MSU seems to need to evolve, at this point. It's as if the program has become satisfied. The coaching was atrocious. Guys looked confused at critical points in the game, especially the overtime period. That's unacceptable.

There's too much reliance on the power backs for offense, and that's making them too predictable, especially because the passing game is just not there to balance this offense. Teams can run to the outside on MSU, but MSU cannot run to the outside, unless they run Shelton on the jet sweeps. At the very least, they should run Holmes more often. He has the best vision and is the most decisive back. I just think he's more effective than Scott and London. I can't be the only one that sees that.

Tyler O'Connor is just not consistent enough. He made some great throws, and he was victimized by some key drops. But he misses some easy throws that stall the offense too often.

The receivers are unfortunately young. But we all should have seen that coming. Too many recruiting classes where the coaches brought in too few receivers. They had a nice class last year, but they were too thin the years prior.

Too many penalties and mistakes, especially by the seniors. Maybe they need to have a players meeting or something.

The season is just about lost.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Thoughts on Wisconsin Game

I didn't think it was possible after the game against Notre Dame, but a big difference in this game was coaching. MSU looked well-coached, prepared, and creative for Notre Dame, but in this game it looks like the Wisconsin coaches came in better prepared. Paul Chryst was apparently calling the plays and he was simply excellent. Granted, their QB also showed some incredible accuracy. He was putting throws on the money. MSU was just not creative like they were against ND. On defense, Wisconsin was complex and aggressive. MSU was too soft.

Of course, the job of the MSU coaches was made much more difficult by the struggles of O'Connor. He was just too late and inaccurate on many throws. He does not look beyond the first read. And he doesn't have the arm strength and accuracy for the long passes. On the second interception he should have been able to spot a wide open Corely for a touchdown. That play in particular made me really question O'Connor's ability to lead this team to much success. I think the coaches will need to think hard about replacing him. He's a good kid, and it's always painful to see good kids struggle, but I just don't think he has what it takes to beat good defenses.

If O'Connor is the best QB on the team, then the coaches may have to let him loose. I think his struggles are partially connected to his excessive caution. He doesn't want to make mistakes, but that's causing him to throw late and lock onto receivers. So the coaches may need to let him become a gunslinger and they'll just have to live with the interceptions.

They also need to let the backup QBs play. This game was over by the fourth quarter, and the coaches should have immediately let Terry or Lewerke play. I don't know why O'Connor was still in there with less than 5 minutes to go. I do think that MSU has hurt the development of their younger QBs by not giving them more snaps in real games. I thought the coaches learned that lesson with Maxwell, but I guess they're getting another chance to learn that lesson again this year, and likely next year.

O'Connor was also not helped by the fact that the O-line also looked like a shell of itself in the ND game. Hopefully, Wisconsin didn't just show the world how to beat this O-line. Hopefully the performance against ND was not a fluke.

There is still time to turn things around, but MSU may need to do what Wisconsin just did: replace a senior QB with a redshirt freshmen QB.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Thoughts on Notre Dame Game

OK, so apart from the coaches taking the foot of the gas too early, again, I thought this was a program win. I really expected MSU to struggle in this one, because MSU usually struggles against Notre Dame's elite talent (especially on the D line) and because Brian Kelly seems to pull out all the clever stops against MSU. But MSU showed some new things this year that are really encouraging.

First, the coaches showed that they were mostly prepared for this game. They had a great offensive and defensive plan for three quarters of the game. I was impressed with the creativity and relative soundness of the play calling most of the game. I am always so impressed by their ability to succeed by sticking to MSU's identity of "pound, green, pound!"

Second, the O line finally matched up well against Notre Dame's elite front 7. Actually, you could say that the MSU O line looked dominant. That really is something new to me. I have never seen MSU's O line bully Notre Dame's front seven. But that what happened much of this game. Kind of like when MSU bullied OSU in the trenches last year. I said before that this O line could end up being better than last year's O line, and that would make it the best O line in the Dantonio era.

Third, the D line is definitely not as good as last year's, but at least it showed me this game that it can be pretty good. McDowell and Cooper are stars, and the other guys showed some improvement. They played pretty well against Notre Dame's very good O line. That's encouraging. Hopefully they'll continue to improve to the point where they're better than last year's D line. With McDowell and Cooper leading this group, I think that's still possible.

Fourth, Gerald Holmes is a very good running back. He may not be as physically gifted as the other backs, but he shows more awareness and toughness. And he actually showed better speed than I expected and he always shows good lateral quickness.

Fifth, I thought the wide receivers would be a liability this year, but this group could turn out to be the best in the B1G this year. Corely, Shelton, and Madaris are good. Real good. Shelton is clearly the answer to MSU's problems running outside the tackles. He is fast and tough. I think the coaches should let him run the ball a few times a game from the running back position. Particularly the runs to the outside.

Overall, the results of this game strongly suggest MSU is a contender for the B1G title and perhaps for a playoff spot. The "back to back" theme is in play.