Where do we begin? Where do we even begin?
Saturday was easily my worst day of football in the Dantonio era. Not only does Michigan State lose to CMU, but Michigan beats Notre Dame in a come-from-behind win. Ohio State played tough, but lost on a last-minute drive to USC, again another stain on the Big Ten’s football reputation.
From Thursday’s Know Thy Enemy preview:
Scream in horror if: LeFevour is able to pick apart the defense and Michigan State can’t bring pressure. The defense should be dominant, even if the offense may be somewhat average. But if the defense comes out flat and CMU is able to keep up with Michigan State offensively late into the game, then all bets are off.
Oh god, the premonition…I’m seeing the future and I’m scared!!!
As I look back on the game, it seems to have moved so slowly. Every element was deliberate, purposeful, almost like a well-crafted narrative. A terrible, disappointing, awful yet well-crafted narrative.
It was hard not to feel confident about this game. We just came off the biggest win of any Big Ten team from week one. We had two very talented quarterbacks that were both capable of leading this team. It seemed like the first time we had an experienced defense since, well, forever. We were all drunk off of the preseason hype.
But we came crashing down. It’s not like this wasn’t at all foreseen. A number of articles appeared offering warning to the Spartans about the Chippewas. They were good enough to be preseason favorites to be the best in the MAC. They probably had the best college quarterback in the state of Michigan.
This one came straight out of the John L. Smith portfolio of how to throw a game away. Lack of discipline lead to bad penalties at the worst times.
I don’t believe what I’m seeing
As MSU was driving to take their last lead of the game with 7:33 in the fourth quarter, I remember sitting in the stands and hearing someone mention bleeding time off of the clock. I responded by saying there was too much time left, it was too early to bleed time off the clock. My reasoning was that there was no way Central Michigan was going to take seven full minutes on a single drive. So if they scored, we might as well have some time left on the clock to come back and retake the lead. I mean, who honestly would have believed that the Chips were going to control the ball possession for the last 7:33 of the game?
Central Michigan scored a touchdown to bring the game to 27-26 before the extra point try. But when you are on the road, against a superior team, and it’s near the end of the game and it’s close, you gotta go for the win. There was only :32 left in the game. If you’re the Chips, you have to go for it. So they do. And they miss the two-point try. Whew, game over, right? Wrong.
Chips line up for an onside kick. Spartan line up for an onside kick. Andrew Aguila kicks the ball. It was like watching it in slow motion. An end-over-end kick, rotating quickly as it passed about two or three feet off of the ground. It’s going to nose into the ground and pop, I though to myself. And sure enough, as it passed the right hash mark, it nosed into the ground and popped up into the air, a perfectly executed onside kick.
Defense needs to step up everyone in the stands had to be thinking. We need a stop. Bend but don’t break, that’s how we were successful last year. That’s what we needed right then. LeFevour completes a 9-yard pass. LeFevour completes a 6-yard pass for a first down. LeFevour completes an 8-yard pass to get within field goal range. Central was at the 30-yard line, roughly a 47-yard field goal try. Aguila kicks, and misses. By a lot.
But wait, MSU jumped offsides. They’re five yards closer, a 42-yard try. Aguila lines it up again, and it’s good making me want to throw up in my mouth. FML. Where did this go wrong?
Even if you had never watched football before, if you couldn’t differentiate a first down from a first date, you could tell that the defense let this team down today. You know, that part of the team that was supposed to have the fewest question marks before the season. The supposed strongest part of our team. But there was a complete inability to execute defensively.
In the game preview, I said that MSU needed to get pressure to LeFevour. That’s how Arizona was able to hold LeFevour to 108 yards passing last week. But MSU lost at the point of attack on defense. There was no push from the defensive line. So even if we brought the linebackers, LeFevour could play pitch and catch with his receivers. Coach Dantonio said in his post game press conference that CMU’s offense is predicated on rhythm, and we couldn’t get them off of their rhythm.
The lack of discipline didn’t help things. MSU had eight penalties for 81 yards, five of those penalties coming in the second half. Late penalties in bad situations is one of those areas that has been markedly improved in the Mark Dantonio era. But this was the worst case of bad penalties we have seen since Dantonio has taken over the program.
Combine all of that with an inability to make tackles, and you see how Central was able to go score for score with MSU. MSU’s defensive backs gave lots of cushion to the Central Michigan receivers, allowing LeFevour to get the ball to his players in space, who gave the head fake and got the MSU DBs to commit early.
And what can we say about the offense? Well, for one, the offense played alright. Not great (even good might be a bit of a stretch), but alright. Sure, more points would have changed the complexion of this game. Sure, it would be nice to, you know, find a running game. But when Cousins was in rhythm, things looked good.
Consider the last MSU drive of the game. After CMU had tied the game at 20-20, Cousins came out and drove 80 yards in 13 plays. Cousins went 6-6 passing for 66 yards, finally throwing a strike to Cunningham to retake the lead.
If there is a silver lining to this game, it’s that we found ourselves a clear starter. Cousins went 13 0f 18 (72%) for 168 yards (12 yards per completion), 1 TD and no interceptions. Nichol went 3-8 (37%) for 51 yards (17 YPC), 1 TD and no interceptions. Even if this isn’t reflected clearly in the stats, Cousins was clearly the superior QB. He showed a better command of the offense and was able to go deeper through his progressions to find open receivers.
Cousins will be the guy. I fully expect Dantonio to offer very strong hints to this effect, if not come right out and say it. Sure, it’s great to make opponents prepare for two quarterbacks. But right now, the writing is on the wall. Let’s let the team coalesce around one main guy.
Here’s the part that scares me the most. Dantonio said earlier in the week that MSU would not look past Central, and I honestly believed him. The more disheartening thing is…I still do. I don’t think MSU looked past Central Michigan. I think MSU came out flat and then didn’t respond against a very scrappy Central Michigan team. So the concern is that if Michigan State didn’t look past Central, does that mean this is the level of effort we can expect from this team?
I hope it’s not. I hope there is more in the tank, a lot more. But at some point, you have to stop looking at potential, and start looking at the body of work. And so far, the body of work has been average at best.
While this game was not lost because of game management (something that was often an issue under John L. and Bobby Williams), one can look at the lack of adjustments as an area of coaching concern.
Central Michigan had 66 net rushing yards. I’m going to repeat that. CMU had 66 NET RUSHING YARDS!!! Hello! This was not a multidimensional team. This was not a dual-threat team. This was a team that threw the ball all game, and picked the MSU defense apart. But where were the adjustments? Why did we continue to give the Central Michigan receivers so much room to catch the ball? Why didn’t we bring more pressure to the quarterback to try to break his rhythm? These are issues that should have been identified and fixed by the coaching staff and were not.
A couple of game moments that I wanted to mention. First, the CMU mascot apparently, is a bag of chips. Actually, I’m guessing it was the mascot that MSU put together because Central didn’t bring a mascot. The bag of chips got crushed by Sparty, but the most interesting part was when the Sparty mascot’s head came off after Sparty tackled the bag of chips. From what I have heard, students who fulfill the duties of Sparty are kept secret, and the guy who was in the Sparty costume clearly hurried to get the head back on as quickly as possible. Did anyone get a picture of that?
Second, I wanted to get Spartan nation’s opinion on the Central Michigan team surrounding the block S on the 50-yard line after the game. There were resounding boos from the remaining MSU fans once they saw CMU gathering. However, CMU’s actions seemed respectful. They didn’t walk all over the S, the didn’t plant their flag, as we have done at Notre Dame stadium. Does anyone know if this was something they did for the first time at Spartan Stadium, or do they do it after every victory?
Finally, at some point in the third quarter (I believe it was the third, may have been the fourth) the student section started chanting “F*** You Central.” Earlier this week, TOSSS wrote a post about the MSU’s attempt to take vulgarity out of some of the game cheers from the student section. Derek walks the fence in his post, saying that football is by it’s nature a PG-13 sport, but that stuff like the F-Bomb really shouldn’t be present in Spartan Stadium.
I’ll admit, I took part in the “1-2-3 First Down Bitch” chant when I was a student. And I also participated in the “F*** U-M” chant that MSU is trying to remove. But now that I am no longer a student, and that I sit in the general public section of the stadium where there are families and specifically young children around, I realize how classless it is to chant that stuff. I get that we want to get into the heads of the opponents, but we can do that by generally being loud and by have good cheers that don’t require the F-word. So please, let’s show a little class and keep it clean.
Where we go from here
So where do we go from here? MSU is entering a tough stretch of the schedule. A talented Notre Dame team will be looking to lick it’s wounds and rebound against MSU as they return to South Bend to take on the Spartans next week. It will be MSU’s first road test of the season. After that, Wisconsin at Madison. And then the big one, Michigan.
Michigan will likely be 4-0 going into that game as they play Eastern Michigan and Indiana in the next two games. We could very well be 1-3. Who would have expected that?
It’s not time to panic, not yet (as our guest blogger Jeremy tells us). With two new quarterbacks and a wide open race at running back, we knew there would be some growing pains. Sure, we didn’t think it would be against Central Michigan, but having struggles was not out of the equation.
Before the season, I predicted that MSU would lose to Notre Dame, and unfortunately I am still compelled to maintain that prediction. But we can lose to the Irish and still play a highly competitive game, come together as a team and be ready to take on Wisconsin a week later. I’d rather we learn our tough lessons now, before the Big Ten schedule starts. We’ve been punched in the mouth. Now let’s see if the Spartans are ready to punch back.