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Saturday, October 6, 2012

Andrew Maxwell? Or Andrew Max-Really-Well?

Replacing a starting quarterback is difficult in college football. Cadence calls, audibles, route-timing, hand-offs, and on-field leadership. Replacing a three-year starter, team captain and the winningist quarterback in Spartan history is almost insurmountable.

Insert a patiently waiting-in-wings Andrew Maxwell, who had 52 career passing attempts prior to getting the starting nod as MSU’s 2012 signal caller. I’ve said from day one that it was up to Maxwell to control games but not take them over. Maxwell is a pocket passer in a Pro-Style Spartan offense. He’s not going to single handedly take games over, but simply needs to manage the offense.  

Four-games later the Spartans (3-2) have begun to wonder why they’re not winning. Any time a team loses, some of that falls on a quarterback’s inability to score more points than their opponents. I say that with the not-so-subtle caveat of last week’s West Virginia/Baylor shootout (final score: 70-63). But back to the Spartans. If I were to rank the top reasons why the offense is NOT scoring points, Andrew Maxwell would probably rank fourth. Did I hear someone say, “Prove it, chicken!” OK Biff Tannon it’s on.

Reason One: “Something’s WR-ong”
Maybe it’s the cafeteria food, maybe it’s remnants of ice-cream left from one of East Lansing legendary’s cold treats but Spartan receivers have a
case of the butterfingers (not the kind that comes in a waffle-cone). Over the last 3 games, MSU has 18 drops! Let me say that again, EIGHTEEN DROPPED PASSES! Bennie Fowler has dropped two that would have been sure touchdowns. In just his second season, wide-receivers coach Terrence Samuel is for some reason not correcting the issues of dropped passes and has not put his best squad forward. Now, before I bash an entire receiving corps let me say that Dion Sims has been a welcome surprise this fall, yet alarmingly our most consistent receiver. Did I also mention he’s just 15 pounds shy of 300 pounds? But with great footwork and soft hands, he should start taking a more leadership role in this group.

Reason Two: “Same OL-d Spartans”
Yes, I hate that line as much as anyone with half a pulse during the John L. Smith days. But I also hate to say it’s true in the case of the offensive line. Now, admittedly this group was touted as one of the big ten’s best. It’s also been badly riddled with injuries. However, this group was being billed during the pre-season as “big, strong and deep.” After watching the first 5 games this group is now “slow, soft and holy-crap-why-can’t-they-block.” Even some of the starters who had 10+ starts under their belts, were missing key blocks, getting zero line push and failing to protect the quarterback on simple three-step-drop passes. I don’t know what the solution is other than- just play better. Like Dantonio has said, it’s a simple game of “blocking and tackling.”

Reason Three: “Faux Coach Ro”
There’s no getting around it, but Offensive Coordinator Dan Roushar is not a Big Ten coordinator. A holdover from Dantonio’s days at Cinci, Roushar took over offensive mastermind Don Treadwell (now head coach Miami OH). The WR dropped passes have plagued MSU all season, so why is it that the highly touted transfer DeAnthony Arnett has gotten such little play time? If you’re answer is he’s still learning the playbook, then tell me what’s the harm if the one’s who know the playbook aren’t catching the ball! Even if he’s in there for 2 plays every series, running as a decoy or run-off flanker, our most experienced WR should be on the field. I also don’t know why it takes five weeks worth of dropped passes to replace a starting WR. This week we will see Aaron Burbridge get the starting nod over Bennie Fowler. The highest ranked WR in Michigan, hailing from the land of Drew Stanton and Agim Shabaij (Farmington Hills Harrison). Need more proof? How about four rushing attempts in the second half of the Notre Dame game? We’re not Hawaii. The running game is essential to the Spartan offense. Yet MSU had 84 combined rushing yards in their two losses and 655 rushing yards in their three wins. I think some of that falls on coaching. I understand that Le’Veon Bell can only carry the team so much, but that doesn’t me he should get every carry. Where have these other speedy back been? Senior TB Larry Caper, Nick Hill and even Jeremy Langford. By changing up the look of the backfield, could change the way plays are called. Le’Veon Bell is a great rusher, but this year has really struggled with trying to get around that edge on stretch plays and toss sweeps. Maybe a smaller speedy back could get that edge. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no better Spartan back than Bell, I’m just saying he shouldn’t get every carry. Besides FB Laurence Thomas doesn’t look too shabby catching passes out of the backfield.

And there you have it, three reasons before Andrew Maxwell. He’s 2nd in the Big Ten in total yards (despite the aforementioned drops). He had three picks in the game against Boise State, and two of those (tipped) interceptions came off the hands of Spartan WRs. Maxwell has yet to throw a pick since.

Don’t get me wrong he’s no Kirk Cousins or Drew Stanton. He’s had a few miscues, thrown some misses and what I like to call “thrown-hospital-balls.” But has been playing better any other offensive player not named Le’Veon Bell. Still, football is a team game and the Spartans offense as a whole, are last in scoring offense (20) and 7th in total offense (384.8). MSU has also played the Big Ten’s toughest schedule and the 11th-toughest in the nation. The Spartans are one of just three teams in the FBS to play three ranked teams before Oct. 1. With the gauntlet of their schedule (@U-M, @WISC, NEB) coming up this month it doesn’t get any easier. Strap-em-up fellas, it’s time to play. 

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  1. Thank you Spartan Dan for another creative contribution. Let's see if I can create some discussion by taking the opposing point of view on some of your observations.

    While Maxwell is a pocket passer, He is better equipped to roll out than Cousins was. The difference? Maxwell has not made great decisions on when to run it. He has made some nice passes on the run though - caught or not.

    It's not just 18 dropped passes. It's all the missed first downs because of it - or the impact on down and distance situations it forces. The drops lead to 3 and outs or stalled drives, frustration, energy loss, reduced rest for an over-worked defense and it ties the hands of the offensive coordinator and shrinks the play book and playing groups.

    Just about every offensive problem stems from the drops. On short down and distance opposing defensive simply load the box to stop the run forcing the pass and on long down and distance they know they know MSU is not running and can force young skill players to make plays they have not proven they can make - yet. This all makes an offensive coordinator look bad - it all plays to the defensive advantage. As coach D says, "plays don't make the players, players make plays" - or something like that.

    Add in the O-line injuries, attitudes and the confusion that going "off script" like this causes and any O-coordinator would be having fits right now. He really is in a spot were to use Bell more, he is running into the jaws of the defense because they no longer respect the pass. Could he do better? Yes. It is just important to know that his options are limited and the solutions are relatively clear to the defense. Pass to Bell. Pass to Sims. Play away from developing back-ups for injured O-lineman. That's about it. What else do you suggest? For all we know, he has tried it and we never saw it cuz it got stuffed.

    What happens in the mind of the O-coordinator is that he is just trying to avoid so many long down and distance situations and as his own offensive player mistakes or the defense remove options, the noose gets tighter - nothing works. It starts to snowball. This is where Dantonio needs to step in, but sometimes you just don't have the right tools to do the repair job or the right medicine for the ailment.

    Are we at that point yet? Could be. Today's game will tell us a lot. Continued problems - we probably are in trouble. We do well today and we will have to see how the next two games go before feeling like we are out of the woods. It think we might be in some real trouble in 2012.

  2. Bottom Line = THE JOKE IS ON US

    We have mediocre players with an inflated sense of importance, coached by people who are clueless about football. How could anybody have ranked any of our players as pre-season All-Americans? Who could believe that any player on our roster is going to leave school early for the NFL?

    How could people have missed the FACT that MSU won 10 close games in a row the past two years? Who couldn't tell at the Boise State game that we did NOT have a "dominating defense". At this point, I would settle for an average defense, one that could stop teams once in awhile.

    Best-case scenario for 2012 = 7-5, losing to UM by less than 20 points.

  3. Very difficult to watch a team (much less root for them) when the DEFENSE is so POOR. Can't believe all the things people were saying about the MSU defense before the season when they had proven nothing. Couldn't understand why folks thought it was "great defense" after watching them get pushed around by CMU and EMU, and scored upon multiple times by Boise State and Notre Dame. Baffled to hear fans crow about the great MSU defense after Ohio State ground it out on us at the end of the game.

    Has anybody seen any defensive play by MSU so far in this Indiana game? Does anybody still believe that Adams is a first-round draft pick and Gholston will jump early to the NFL?

    This football "program" is clearly in shambles. There is nothing right about it.

  4. I wonder why anonymous chose to be anonymous. People who are clueless about football? How do clueless coaches win 10 close games with guys other teams did not recruit? How do clueless coaches produce results not experienced in East Lansing for five decades? Problems? Yes. We have them. Frustrations? Yes. We have them. Kool-Aid? Yes. We probably took a swig or two. Youth? Yes. Tons of it - One of two senior starters on offense may be out for the season. The defense features 3 seniors. Clueless coaches? No. You lost your credibility. Good Bye.

  5. Anonymous 2:
    No. Adams is no high round NFL draft pick.
    No. Gholston won't jump based on production and stats - but his "measurables" and combine type skills will probably be enough to lure him and a team will take him.
    No. The "program" is NOT in "shambles". The program is healthy. The season is in shambles. You are talking like a fan, which is OK - that's what we are, but the program is bigger than this season. Take a look at the depth chart and the eligibility class of each player, then go look at the schedule the next two years. Building programs usually do not produce a straight line upward improvement.

  6. Anonymous is a box score fan. Doesn't even watch the games. Though he has points we all agree with he brings up the defense against Boise State. ". . . scored upon multiple times by Boise State. . ." The Broncos didn't score an offensive touchdown for the first time since 1999. ". . . and Notre Dame." Two first half TD's on drives relying on misdirection plays. Two second half field goals with the aid of turning the ball over downs in Irish territory. Love your contribution, Anonymous, but we have many fact checkers on this blog.

  7. Fair Points all around. Defense is GOOD but not great. Several people over the past couple weeks (and today) have been on the receiving end of my text message which simply read "Johnny Adams = Fools Gold." Having said that let's also be aware that our defense let up just 35 total rushing yards and a shutout second half. THe hurry-up offense killed us but halftime adjustments led to our 2nd half goose-egg.

    BTW- believe your quote is "Players Play – Tough Players Win." which is a quote from Izzo, not Coach D.


  8. Nope. I was talking about Dantonio's response to a specific question about play calling. His point was that you can call the right play, but players need to execute the play and the proper technique with skill and decisiveness. It was basically that the player makes the play, the play doesn't make the player. My point point is to those who "have a better idea" than Roushar, it is very likely their play call would not have worked either. After than happens, you start scrambling just to get a few yards so you don't end up 3rd and long. It screws everything up. It's the players way more than the play calling. Take away the drops and the injuries and I think we'd all be only slightly uncomfortable with the offense instead of entirely disappointed.

  9. Oh, and another reply to anonymous 1: If the coaches are clueless, how do you explain the halftime adjustments of today's game? Both offense and defense made HUGE positive adjustments the showed on the field. Please come back. Create a user name. You are welcome here...

  10. Roushar is not a big ten coordinator. Tell me any big ten coordinator that tolerates FIVE weeks of dropped passes before replacing a starter. Tell me a big ten coordinator which can give their workhorse RB 44 carries in, then call just SIX running plays in the second half of the ND game. No doubt the drops is not reflection of the play call or the system but rather the execution. But some of the "down and distance" calls have been atrociously bad. Complimented with poor personnel decisions, say to me that SOME (not all) of this blame fall's on Roushar's shoulders. Anyone still have Coach Treadwell's phone number?


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