Saturday, November 19, 2016

Thoughts on OSU Game: Coaches Blow it Again

MSU outgains them on offense and the coaches go for 2. That is all you need to know about the state of the program.

That call was bad enough to make me question the viability of this coaching staff. I hope they surprise me next year, but I think this program has lost its edge. I will now spend my days thinking about who should be the next head coach.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Thoughts on Illinois Game

Tough to evaluate this game because at this point the coaches have chosen to play for next year. They're giving the young guys the opportunity to get experience and that's a good thing for next year, but it probably means they'll lose the rest of their games this year.

The most dangerous thing about this youth strategy is that if the Spartans struggle again next year, it will make it much easier to make coaching changes. This team will have the worst record in the B1G this year. Even 7 wins next year won't compensate for that kind of debacle.

One more key lesson that emerged during this game is that it can definitely hurt you to lose key guys at key positions. The loss of Evans and Sweat on the DL may have been the biggest losses from last year. Those guys did come in with reputations for behavioral problems. I think the lesson here is to favor guys who are likely to grow into decent senior contributors rather than favor guys who could be stars but that might get into trouble and leave you shorthanded at key positions.

This team went from almost having too much talent at offensive tackle, to suddenly having no talent at tackle. The loss of Finley has turned out to be much more devastating than anticipated. Hopefully he'll be back for his senior year, hopefully Chewins adds the 30 pounds he needs to gain, hopefully Lukusa makes a big leap next year. Hopefully they have too much talent at tackle next year...

 I'll say it again, the seniors have been devastating this year. Price is a shadow of what I anticipated he would be this year. Just incomprehensible. Machado has also been a big disappointment. The physical tools seem to be there, but the mental part of the game seems to elude him.

The year has been so bad that this program needs to be on a short leash. This coaching staff should only get one more year to turn things around. I greatly appreciate what this staff has done to make MSU relevant, but if they've lost their mojo, then I hope they recognize that and hand the program off to someone else with more energy (perhaps Narduzzi - more on that some other time). I hate to see a staff find ways to stick around as the program falls into long term decline. Perhaps that's the greatest coaching move this staff has left to make: it should recognize that they've lost their mojo and hand the reigns over to another staff that can continue to build this program.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Thoughts on Michigan Game

Yes, this is a rivalry game, but MSU showed today that it has the ability to do much better than it has up to this point. This is not a 2-6 team. This team was not going to beat Michigan. Too many youngsters making mistakes at inopportune times. But this team has the talent to win the rest of their games this season, save against OSU. If they are not able to do so, there need to be several changes in the coaching staff.

The coaches did much better this week than they have all year, but they still got outcoached, overall. You would think UM was the underdog, the way they ran trick plays and creative play calls on offense. That's what I thought MSU would be doing, but they stayed pretty conservative until the fourth quarter. One big difference was the use of the long pass. MSU hardly tried any, while UM hit several long passes and benefited from several pass interference calls. The few times MSU went downfield, their QBs threw the ball to the inside of the receiver. They gotta go outside shoulder to give themselves a shot at the PI calls.

The QBs were OK, but they were outplayed by Speight. That's the bottom line. We saw the 3 QBs out there, but I wish they would have had more specific plans for each. It seems to me that every time a team puts in a new QB, that QB is able to move the ball for at least one drive -- perhaps because it takes defenses a bit of time to adjust to them. MSU may be in a position to take advantage of that, but they probably won't.

The running game showed promise. The O-line blocked well and the running backs ran hard. There is potential, but they have to do it every week.

The defense remains soft, but at least they held UM to a field goal in the second half. Ed Davis makes a difference out there. Hopefully, his presence will take this defense to the next level the remainder of the season.

The poor tackling continues to hurt this team. If you can't tackle Speight on an open run to the QB, you can't tackle any quarterback.

The youth in the secondary cost this team too many big plays.

To conclude, this team showed that it has the talent to win the rest of it's games, except against OSU. If they lose the rest of their games, it's on the coaches. Period. And Dantonio will need to strongly consider hiring coaches that are as passionate and obsessed as Harbaugh, and the rest of the B1G for that matter -- nobody is coasting. I do think that many of MSU's problems are the result of a coaching staff that decided to coast this year.    

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.