Michigan State vs Oregon: What worked and what didn’t against the Ducks

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Sep 12, 2015; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans place kicker Michael Geiger (4) kicks a field goal out of the hold of Michigan State Spartans wide receiver Matt Macksood (86) during the 2nd half of a game at Spartan Stadium. MSU won 31-28. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Special teams

Most Spartan fans were hoping that the gaffes in the Western game were anomalies. If it were one week it could have been an anomaly, two weeks is turning into a pattern, a third week would be a trend.

This is not the kind of trending Michigan State wants to do. Add a missed field goal from Matt Geiger and the special teams gets its second straight failing grade. Brand new special teams coach Mark Snyder must be feeling some pressure even if the problems aren’t his fault.

What went well: Jake Hartbarger

Hartbarger averaged 51.4 yards per punt and managed to drop one in inside the 20. He had one touchback, but the way the team is covering kicks that might not be the worst thing in the world.

At this point he’s putting up All-Big Ten kind of numbers. Losing fan-favorite Mike Sadler as a real concern for the Spartans, but Hartbarger has made that loss sting a lot less so far.

What didn’t: Kick coverage

The big one was the 81-yard punt return for a touchdown. But just as troubling was the 49-yard kick return. That was maddening because the Spartans had to have worked on kick coverage like crazy this week.

That means they tried to fix the problems and clearly did not. They say sometimes it’s Xs and Os, but sometimes it’s Jimmys and Joes. Meaning sometimes it’s the scheme and sometimes it’s the players in the scheme.

With punt coverage issues added to the kick coverage issues, this may be a Jimmy and Joe problem. Unfortunately, the Jimmy and Joe that problems making tackles in open space — RJ Williamson and Montae Nicholson — were two of the guys who got burned on the punt return.

Both of the starting safeties had chances to bring down Oregon returner Bralon Addison. Nicholson got shook and Williamson whiffed from behind.

A buddy of mine standing next to me at the game said maybe we need to put the starters on the special teams — but these are starters. The silver lining is that if they get their tackling fixed for the receivers, they’ll probably be fixed for the kick coverage. Until then, let’s hope for a lot of touchbacks.

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