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Saturday, September 7, 2013

Offense Sputters, Defense Shines, and a Mark Dantonio Conspiracy Theory:

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again “I’ll take a bad win over a good loss any day of the week.” Well, Saturday was bad, but not atrocious. Let’s recap MSU’s win over WMU 26-13. 

The offense sputtered for much of the game, with 297 total yards, 1 touchdown, 2 FGs, and a lost fumble. Maxwell seemed to complete his throws but was unable to move the ball consistently, while Cook was able to move the ball but couldn't complete his throws. Cook also was able to create some decent offensive runs with an interesting read-option look. Between the two of them, we have one decent QB. They combine for 17-37 for 116 passing yards. But the guys under-center weren't entirely to blame, RBs Langford & (Riley) Bullough looked good at times but still appeared like first-year backs. It still boggles my mind that WR's coach Terrence Samuel still has a job (let alone deserved a pay raise this year). Despite the so-called improvements in camp, Spartan WRs had six dropped passes, including some really glaringly bad ones. All in all the offense should play better this week against a USF defense that gave up 51 points to McNeese State last week. 

What more can you say about a defense that surrendered just 11 total rushing yards, causes 4 turnovers and scores two TDs? The highly touted defense created havoc all night for the Broncos who eeked out a meager 4-for-20 on 3rd down conversions. As a Spartan fan (and former DB), I can honestly say that Kurtis Drummond’s interception was “Woodson-esque” from 1997. I'm okay with making that comparison because that 1997 defense made plays and won games for that team. This Spartan defense could be close to that level of intensity. And speaking of intensity, was I the only Spartan fan that was reminded of Batman’s nemesis Bane when looking at Shilique Calhoun’s fumble recovery for a touchdown? Modeled after the NY (football) Giants’ Jason Tuck, Calhoun picked up the Marcus Rush forced fumble for a 16 yard score. After Friday night's game, he was quoted as saying, "“When I step on the field, I’m a different type of guy... And I feel like that facemask is kind of like my alter ego.” The Spartan defense also had five sacks and 22 QB hits. Look for more of the same this week. 

If you think Mark Dantonio has been a little hush-hush on the QB controversy, that might be the biggest understatement of the year. But here's my Dantonio conspiracy theory: 

MSU opens the season with three weak non-conference foes before playing #14 Notre Dame in Week Four. The Spartans don't play another ranked opponent until Week Nine against U-M. Last year, the Spartans got owned by the Irish, who sniffed out their schemes all game long. Dantonio, while admittedly not being impressed with the talent on the field has a starter in mind right now. I truly believe Dantonio wants to choose a starter and stick with them. But MSU needs this Notre Dame game and is willing to cause some obfuscation in the earlier weeks if it creates scouting havoc for the Irish, who not only lost their defensive field general Manti T'eo and a few other defense starters, but also their 2 top RBs (Riddick & Wood) and leading receiver (Eifert).

Here's Dantonio (at 0:17) doing his Bill Belichick routine.

Go Green!
Dan Stepanian-Bennett

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  1. I think there is an Andrew Maxwell conspiracy. Just kidding. It's not just the dropped passes, but receivers need to make tough catches too. They need to make great plays sometimes. Every effective QB moves the chains because receivers catch catch-able balls and tough to catch balls. MSU QBs get neither. The reason Dantonio keeps trotting out Maxwell is because he is the best QB. But now, he has to consider that guys other positions are not making plays so he has to introduce a new element and that is the moving pocket or better yet and running QB. After Cook and O'Connor light up a horrible team that gave up 54 pints point to a division 2 team, while Maxwell watches, it will be tough for him to come back. Receivers will be focused. Plays will be made it will look like NO MAXWELL = MAGIC. Too bad. He's a good pocket passer on the wrong team at the wrong time. Because his teammates did not perform they have to go with legs.

  2. Hey Dan,

    I like your conspiracy theory, but I can't honestly believe it at this point. Dantonio has only one reasonable choice remaining for next week. He must start Damion Terry and let him play the entire game. Too bad it's that simple.

    At this point, our Coach is being led by the circumstances, rather than him leading them. He has not other choice at QB. The sooner they announce it, the better.


  3. That's right SM82. Dantonio's rotation in the first two games and the heavy competition in camp has proven that the problem on offense is not Andrew Maxwell. The problem is the offense as a whole stinks and that is why none of the QBs have been able to distinguish themselves. I have posted many times on M-Live and here on this site that Kurt Cousins would have looked bad with last year's offense - add on this year too. Dantonio's only option now is to bring a whole new component to the equation in Damion Terry. It will suck to burn his red-shirt if he struggles too. The other three QBs don't suck, they just can't get THIS offense moving. DT in the YSU game is the last chance until later if/when the season is on the brink of being lost.

  4. The key reason why he HAS TO start Damion Terry next week is because its the last free shot to do so without using the redshirt. All of the previous arguments and debates about if/how much/when are rendered moot by the virtually unprecedented failure on Offense thus far.

    My view is that approach may as well extend to many other positions on offense, including running back, where two freshmen have yet to play. No knock on Bullough/Langford, but its another free shot to get some PT to young players.

    1. The normal redshirt goes out the window if Terry plays.

      The medical redshirt is intended for hardship cases due to real medical conditions.

      I would not suggest to Coach Dantonio that he does anything under the table... Just saying honor and honesty must transcend the game or what is the point? Sportsmanship, too.

  5. I am nearly certain that due to rules changes (quite some time ago) if he or any freshman plays at all, it burns the red-shirt unless there is a medical issue. I'd rather be wrong.

  6. Let me toss in something that may not be obvious to many.
    The passing game is still dysfunctional, but the offense is moving the ball.

    Yes, no passing TDs and only 2 rushing TDs.

    Here's the point.

    Field position. The offense is moving the ball well enough that with the good contributions from special teams, the opposing offenses are pinned back where Narduzi can let the dawgs off the leash. This would not happen with simple 3 & outs.

    During the S.FL. game, it was apparent to me that the younger QBs, Cook and O'Connor were not quite there yet. Dangerous throws, bad mistakes, but they could cause some Dennard Robinson like excitement with their feet. Ok. I am not sure Terry would do any better. I am not sure Maxwell is the choice. He threw a grounder and not every pass was on target. He did make a block on the unsuccessful Bullough direct snap.

    I am glad I do not have to make this decision or solve this problem.

    I am convinced the Terry is not the answer because the problem really isn't the QB. Maybe bringing in Tery would get that spark, but probably not.

  7. Thanks for the observation from 76. I personally don't know that Damion Terry is "the answer", but I'm sure that it's time to find out.

    The sense of urgency to play Terry next weekend stems from the fact that this is the last free shot to give him a chance. If he proves to be worse than the others, he should move to the back of the line and wait his turn for next year.

    But if his presence seems to be "about the same as" the other three, he needs to get into the playing-time mix. Let's remember the reason why this is important.

    Only 10 days ago, I disagreed with the onslaught of amateur opinion regarding the need to give Terry the full-time job in Game One. However, we should take note of the one reason for doing that which now makes sense. The idea is that if Terry is "no worse than" the others, letting him play puts MSU in better position for next season and beyond. Now that we've seen how bad it looks with the others, it's no longer a great leap to think the Offense may not be any worse with him.

    The other reason - - - the one that nobody was talking about - - - is beginning to loom large. There are others watching (quarterbacks-to-be) who want to see if young players really get a shot in the Dantonio system. Giving those players hope for their own future at MSU is important for the program.

    So if Terry can play, maybe Dantonio should split time between the three younger QBs and let Maxwell be the place-holder on field goals and extra points. I'm so sorry that Maxwell didn't cut the mustard, but he didn't.

    1. You are suggesting, then, that it is Coach Dantonio's time to make an act of desparation?

      Not I.

      Go State!

  8. SpartanMan82,

    You make some good points. I do not necessarily agree with them all, though.

    First, Maxwell has yet to have receivers playing as receivers so claiming he did not "cut the mustard" is a little off kilter, IMO. Whatever can be said about any QB that has seem game time, with respect to the passing game, generally applies to all.

    I do not advocate any QB to start. That said, there are certain observations I have made about A.Maxwell. He has improved over last year. He has demonstrated an ability to scramble for positive yards. He is much less likely to do so that Cook or O'Connor, true, but it was absent last season and that marks an improvement. He demonstrated a willingness to block. The failed Bullough direct snap required his attempt. That it was a poor block did not affect the play. That he made the block marks an improvement over last season.

    Cook made rookie mistakes, one of which was a costly fumble. It could have been worse with his errant passing and Spartans can be relieved we dodge a couple of bullets there. Cook runs. Put him is as a Keith Nichol type position, wildcat/receiver. Or put him in as a triple option wishbone. The kid can contribute to the offense, but not as a passing QB.

    O'Connor made rookie mistakes, one of which was a pass in heavy covereage that could have been a costly mistake and would have been against a better opponent. Passing was sub-par, to be kind about it. Like Cook, O'Connor can contribute with his feet. The wildcat/receiver, or the triple option wishbone seem an optimum place for him to contribute.

    Give Cook and O'Connor a shot at receiver positions, please.

    Terry. If he is "about the same as" the other 3, then why waste his first year, is the counter point. Give him a year as a redshirt, let him assimilate into college life (has he even gone to class yet?) and learn the team, the system, the playbook, and his teammates. Putting him in now, while it would generate a lot of excitement, could truly backfire and instead of getting 3 or 4 good years out of him, he could be lost.

    Tough choice for Coach Dantonio.

    The younger QBs have gotten opportunities to separate themselves from the others, to win the starting job. The recruits know this. No one comes into the MSU program expecting an entitlement. Hope, yes. Fair chance, yes. Guarantee, no.

    As far as splitting time, it should be 2/3s for the starter and 1/3 for next year's starter. That is why the Hoyer transition was good. A 3-way mix will just continue to make the offense disfunctional. The team needs to get an identity and find its rhythm.

    The offense is better than last season and we do not need to be concerned about the rushing attack. How much better? If it were a 100 mile journey to get where they need to be, they have moved closer 10, maybe 20 miles. Improvements, yes, satisfactory improvement, no.


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