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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

MSU FOOTBALL FRONT-BURNER: One-On-One with ATownAndDown. Burn the Bridges?

Today, we go one-on-one with ATownAndDown. You will find his views insightful and thought provoking. You can read A-Town's comments on M-Live here.

Many Spartan fans seem to want radical, "burn the bridge" type changes. Have you seen any fan-base ideas that have real merit? What message would you like to get across to Spartan Nation about the current "state of State"?

The time to panic is now. Jump ship. Turn in your Spartan Nation card at the door on the way out.... Ok now that the lemmings are gone lets get down to brass tax. The MSU Football Program is not in as bad of shape as some would like to think. The offense, while not overwhelming, had moments that looked fine. Langford moved the ball fine and Brian Kelly admitted that MSU was moving the ball on the ground against his team. Cook made some youthful mistakes but has shown that he is a different QB than he was even 2 weeks ago. There were rumblings that the defense wasn't as good as some thought and had to see what it looked like against a talented team like ND. Are you sold yet?

My biggest issue is the coaching. Brian Kelly said that down the stretch he preferred to have MSU's offense on the field because he thought the MSU defense could turn a ND mistake into a score while he knew that MSU offense would get impatient and make a mistake causing the drive to stall. That is coaching decisions. Play calling and personnel decisions were poor. The most obvious was pulling Cook for the last series which he appeared confused about after being told it was due to his accuracy (he was 11 for 17 in the second half). Langford carried the ball 3 times for 11 yards and had a reception for 12 yards. Then he disappeared until the second half when he ran the ball 11 times for 60 yards. We opened the second half with arguably the best drive of the season that stumbled when we decided to run a weak wildcat play (no option for the backside of the play and basically was a direct snap off-tackle run). We still had the ND defense of kilter to open the next drive but ran an end around. This was a great play call because the defense was crashing hard to slow the run but then Shelton (a true freshman mind you) stopped and threw up a prayer because it wasn't just an end around there was a pass called. Interception and the rest is history.

The coaches need to get out of the way of these players. Stop trying to get overly cute with things. Stop trying to run the offense like you are trying to score 40+ points a game. Let your guys run the game plan and let them play. Tell Cook to push things and when he makes mistakes pat him on the butt and send him back out there. Not every pass has to be perfect. Tell Langford that he doesn't need to be physical after he bursts through the line. Put the ball in your WR's hands so they can run with it. And someone please throw the ball 20+ yards down the field.

What do you think is at the source of Dantonio's apparent inability to push the right buttons and pull the right levers in 2012 and 2013 vs. previous years, some with less talent? (Optional: What might be going on that we can't see?)

I think Coach D got spoiled with the 2011 team. 2007 and 2008 were just tough nosed football. Conservative play calling that all centered on running the ball. 2009 and even into 2010, it was very similar. Pound the run and set up the play action pass. In 2011 though the run was not as effective early in the season and MSU won a lot of games on the arm of Kirk Cousins. So they rolled with it and Cousins carried the team a long way in those contests. 2012 the offensive line was banged up and when we tried to get back to those basics the run blocking and the protection was not there. This year it seems like his decision making is stuck in 2012. Its like he has forgotten about the bread and butter that has brought MSU some pretty nice success. Impose your will and let the rest flow from that.

With a possibly even weaker than projected Big Ten Conference at hand on the schedule, how is the Spartans 2013 conference hopes for success shaping up now compared to what you thought when camp broke?

MSU is part of that perception that the B1G is weaker than expected so let's not get ahead of ourselves thinking that things got easier. I think the B1G is still staking up about the same as it was when camp broke. Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Purdue and Minnesota are games we have to win. Northwestern, U of M and Nebraska are going to be tough outs but are winnable. NW and Nebraska are teams that need to score points to win (they are not going to be able to institute a similar game plan to what ND did). And Gardener, while talented, has shown that he can be mistake prone which could lead to short fields and/or defensive scores which help out a below average offense. Also, those games a later in the season and if Cook continues to improve who knows, maybe the offense becomes competent.

I think that this Iowa game will be a solid report card on how things are going to play out. You have had 3 games to experiment. You had a test in ND. Now you have a week off to reassess and work on things. Iowa, while not world beaters, is still a team that we will be able to see where we stand after making those changes. If it plays out similar to Iowa last year (even if we win this time around) then I don't put much stock in MSU competing for the B1G.

Any thoughts on the need to play Damion Terry at quarterback or are we burned out on that issue?

This issue plays into my question to the [other contributors and readers on this site]. I have heard some rumblings that some of the bigger donors to the program are becoming disenfranchised with what they have seen from the program over the past season and 4 games. The impression I got from what I heard was they are not happy with the feeling of mediocrity. If Dantonio goes 7-6 again, 2014 might become a make or break year for a guy that seemed invincible 2 years ago. Donor money is important to a program (and was the reason RichRod didn't get his 4th year at U of M).

[A-Town's question - reply using the comments button] Could it be possible that Dantonio's coaching decisions and not winning these close games could put him on the hot seat?

[ATownAndDown's Answer]
In my opinion, Coach D has to win this year. That means pulling out all the stops. Whether that is playing Terry, Delton Williams, Holmes, Madaris, Arnett or whoever on offense, he has to get it done. I don't care if these guys know only a handful of plays, if they can come in for those handful of plays and improve this team that is enough. Last year we lost 5 games by 13 total points. If playing those guys this year means that we score even 3 more points per game, is that 2-3 more wins than last year. What if they add more? AB came in last year and improved the offense. Cook came in during the bowl game and helped win that contest. We saw in 2009, freshman Caper and Baker carried the running game down the stretch. These guys are not perfect and might never be close enough to every be the perfect player. But if they can come in and do a few things better than we have now, lets do it. Going into this season I thought MSU's offense would be improved over last year's team and that would allows us to compete for the B1G. At this point I don't know if there is enough to count on the offense developing organically. Maybe one of these guys can be a spark the offense to find something more.


So readers and contributors, what about A-Town's question above?

Click the comments link.

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