Michigan State Football: Were the struggles foreseeable?


Heading into the season, the Michigan State football team had lofty goals including winning the Big Ten Championship and competing for a spot in the College Football Playoff. All offseason, Spartan fans heard about the dominating offensive and defensive lines and Connor Cook, a potential Heisman candidate.

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With the departure of defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, Trae Waynes and Kurtis Drummond, many fans questioned whether the Spartan Dawgs would maintain their dominant status during the 2015 campaign. Following another porous outing, it’s safe to say that this defense is nowhere near the same caliber as the previous three seasons.

Coach Mark Dantonio is known for his loyalty; several members of his coaching staff have been with him since his days at Cincinnati. After Pat Narduzzi’s departure, Dantonio named Harlon Barnett and Mike Tressel as co-defensive coordinators because of their experience working in the defensive scheme. Nine games into the season, it’s clear that neither of those coaches are prepared to be a coordinator.

It’s one thing if players are trying their best every play and still struggle, but it’s an entirely different story when multiple corners and safeties have been put in a scheme that is simply not working.

Oct 17, 2015; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio during the first quarter in the game against the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

So far this year, MSU has used seven different safeties and six corners (to my recollection — I may be missing a player or two), including back-up wide receiver Monty Madaris at corner during a few plays against Nebraska.

If the press coverage is not working, perhaps it’s time for a change. Personally attacking each member of the secondary seems uncalled for when they are put in situations where they are not comfortable.

On the other side of the ball, offensive coordinator Dave Warner continues to show an inability to call a game that puts the offense in a position to win each game.

Yes, Connor Cook has been playing spectacularly during the last month — except for a terrible interception against Nebraska — but the play-calling has been atrocious. Without fail, you can expect Michigan State to run straight up the middle on first down, routinely setting up second and long.

Situational play-calling has been an even bigger problem. Against Nebraska, Warner called several baffling plays that never had a chance. On 4th-and-1: run up the middle for a loss of three. On 3rd-and-8, with a chance to ice the game: run an end around to Jamal Lyles (?!). Even amateur Madden enthusiasts know those plays would never work.

Related: Watch the non-call that robbed Michigan State football

Throughout the season, Coach Dantonio has appeared to be more active in play-calling than previous years. If that is indeed true, it is astonishing that these play-calling issues are occurring and seem to be irreversible at this point.

On both offense and defense, opposing teams are zeroing in on specific plays that they know they can exploit. For example, several teams have realized that throwing deep against the secondary frequently results in long completions or pass interference penalties. Instead of giving the corners help, Dantonio is allowing the defensive coordinators to expose inexperienced secondaries to the tune of a stunning amount of 30-plus yard gains.

The special teams unit, which have been victimized for a majority of the year, continue to give opposing teams great field position. Although the special teams unit was a disappointment against Nebraska (…again), it was nice to see Michael Geiger make a 46-yard field goal after weeks of Coach Dantonio showing no confidence in the kicking game.

Next: MSU vs Nebraska: 5 reasons why Spartans can't blame refs

If Michigan State wins out, a Big Ten Championship is still a possibility. However, with such glaring deficiencies in the team, the coaching staff must make adjustments or this team will continue to struggle in all three phases of the game.