Michigan State Football: Do Spartans have lack of a killer instinct?


For what seems like the fifth time this year, the Michigan State football team has struggled to finish off an opposing team.

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Although the Central Michigan game ended on a 13-0 run in the 4th quarter, the first 45 minutes certainly lacked a concentrated effort to put away the game. In the Spartans’ five victories this year, they have been outscored 73 to 50 in the second half of games, leading to nerve-wracking endings in the Oregon and Purdue games.

Although Michigan State is not known for piling on points late in games, like Baylor and TCU, its uninspired efforts in the second half are unexpected for a team widely expected to compete for the Big Ten, and national, title.

One of the major areas of concern is the offensive play-calling, which can be classified in the “prevent offense” category.

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As many fans noticed, following a successful first half, the Spartans turned almost exclusively to the run game. Granted, L.J. Scott (18 carries, 146 yards, 2 touchdowns), Madre London (17 carries, 97 yards) and Connor Cook (5 carries, 48 yards) performed exceptionally well on a dreary day in East Lansing.

However, running the ball on consecutive plays is not a great way to sustain a drive when Purdue continued to stack the box, knowing Cook would not be looking to pass. In the next few weeks, Michigan State will be facing stronger defenses that will suffocate the Spartans’ offense if it remains one-dimensional.

In each game, offensive coordinator Dave Warner appeared to take his foot off the gas and simply coast to a victory. However, that strategy does not work when the team no longer has a top-ten defense.

Repeatedly, opposing teams have been able to expose the Spartans’ defense — mostly through the air, however a 68-yard touchdown run by Markell Jones was difficult to watch. It seems that, unlike under Pat Narduzzi, the defense gets worse as the game progresses.

Sep 19, 2015; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans receiver Aaron Burbridge (16) catches a touchdown pass against the Air Force Falcons during the 1st quarter of a game at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

As Michigan State looks to improve this year, the passing game will be instrumental to its success. When you have a potential first-round draft pick under center, it is unacceptable for Connor Cook to sit back and hand the ball off continuously.

I’m not advocating for 60+ points on a weekly basis, but with a struggling defense, it may be up to the offense to demonstrate the killer mentality that the Spartan defense exhibited the past three years. Even with a strong running game, the passing attack must be mixed in to keep opposing defenses honest.

On the defensive side of the ball, injuries and a lack of fundamentals have bogged down the Spartans. RJ Williamson, the lone secondary starter with extensive experience, is out for the foreseeable future, further hampering a struggling unit.

For the first time in recent memory, the Spartans have struggled to tackle opposing players- especially in the secondary- which has led to big plays. In fact, when looking back on big plays against the defense this year, I can recall several instances where the opponent was seemingly cornered by a couple defenders, only to break loose.

Instead of shutting down opposing offenses and taking away their confidence, the defense is giving up repeated big plays and is unable to get off the field when they should be. As teams gain confidence, the Spartans have been unable to stop their momentum. This, coupled with the offense calling a very conservative game, has led to lower-tiered teams staying close late into games.

Against Rutgers, I will be watching to see how the Spartans play if they take an early lead. Will they continue their game plan of simply handing the ball off to run out the clock or will they stay aggressive and make sure the game does not get close?

With the Wolverines looming on Oct. 17, the Spartans must gain confidence this week and re-establish their killer instinct.

Next: Grades for MSU in win over Purdue

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