Michigan State Football: What are short and long-term game-plans for Spartans?

STATE COLLEGE, PA - OCTOBER 13: Brian Lewerke #14 of the Michigan State Spartans hands off to La'Darius Jefferson #15 of the Michigan State Spartans against the Penn State Nittany Lions on October 13, 2018 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
STATE COLLEGE, PA - OCTOBER 13: Brian Lewerke #14 of the Michigan State Spartans hands off to La'Darius Jefferson #15 of the Michigan State Spartans against the Penn State Nittany Lions on October 13, 2018 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

It’s been a rough season for Michigan State football but the Spartans have some short and long-term game plans for the remainder of the 2018 campaign.

Many Michigan State football fans for lack of a better word are frustrated. Some may argue that a good portion of Spartan fans are angry and even nervous about this season and next.

After seven games, Michigan State has three losses with two of those losses being at home. Injuries are starting to pile up to an alarming level as had been noted and documented. However, after Michigan State’s victory at then-No. 8 ranked Penn State, fans should know that this season is not over with and this season is in no shape or form comparable to 2016.

The 2012 season is more comparable, and that season helped propel Michigan State to a very successful season in 2013. If the Spartans are smart and can overcome key injuries, this season is not lost by any means. Long-term, 2019 can be a very special season for Michigan State. Explaining the long-term plan before explaining the short-term plan for the Spartans will help shape the bigger picture.

Those who are pessimistic will point out that this season was supposed to be special with Michigan State contending with Ohio State for the Big Ten East division and possibly having an outside chance of making the College Football Playoff.

Fans who see the glass half full will say that Michigan State squandered a great opportunity returning 19 total starters from a team that won their bowl game and had 10 wins last season. What happened this season with the rash of injuries and losing some early winnable games should not deter the optimism for next season.

If there are no key transfers, early draft entries, or denied medical redshirts, Michigan State will return 17 starters for the 2019 season. As seen below, the Spartans will have tremendous depth as well in key positions.

  • Quarterbacks: Brian Lewerke, Rocky Lombardi, Theo Day
  • Running backs: La’Darius Jefferson, Connor Heyward, Weston Bridges, Elijah Collins
  • Wide receivers: Cody White, Darrell Stewart Jr., Cam Chambers, Jalen Nailor, C.J. Hayes, Laress Nelson, Andre Welch, Javez Alexander
  • Tight ends: Matt Dotson, Trenton Gillison, Noah Davis
  • Tackles: Luke Campbell, Cole Chewins, Jordan Reid, Mustafa Khaleefah, A.J. Arcuri
  • Guards: Kevin Jarvis, Tyler Higby, Blake Bueter, Matt Carrick
  • Centers: Matt Allen, Jacob Isaia
  • Defensive ends: Kenny Willekes, Jacub Panasiuk, Jack Camper, Drew Beesley, Justice Alexander, Parks Gissinger, Matt Seybert
  • Defensive tackles: Raequan Williams, Mike Panasiuk, Naquan Jones, Jacob Slade, Dashaun Mallory, DeAri Todd
  • Star linebackers: Antjuan Simmons, Edward Warinner
  • Mike linebackers: Joe Bachie, Noah Harvey
  • Sam linebackers: Tyriq Thompson, Brandon Bouyer-Randle, Chase Kline
  • Cornerbacks: Justin Layne, Shakur Brown, Kalon Gervin, Dominique Long, Josiah Scott, Josh Butler, Davion Williams
  • Free safeties: David Dowell, Xavier Henderson
  • Strong safeties: Tre Person, Michael Dowell
  • Place kickers: Matt Coghlin, Cole Hahn
  • Punters: Jake Hartbarger (medical redshirt), Tyler Hunt

The long-term plan going into next season with Kenny Willekes, Raequan Williams, Joe Bachie, Justin Layne and Josiah Scott and the supporting cast on defense having the potential to rival the legendary Spartan defense of 2013 should have Michigan State fans and alums very hopeful and optimistic.

On offense, Brian Lewerke, Cody White, Darrell Stewart Jr. with an experienced offensive line and with emerging potential at the running back position should be a recipe for success in 2019.

The schedule does not have any non-conference away games and they should be 5-0 entering their game against Ohio State. The Big Ten schedule will be tougher but next year’s Spartan team will be built to endure it and win the Big Ten East division. The expectation should be to win the Big Ten and make the College Football Playoff. However, the short-term plan is essential in developing the long-term plan.

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The short-term plan is extremely important to build momentum going into the 2019 season.

After the debacle which was the 2016 season, this year’s team can ill afford to end this season on a poor note. Meaning, the Spartans need to win three out of their final five regular season games. Splitting with Purdue and Maryland, losing by nearly a hundred to Ohio State is acceptable at this point, and sweeping Nebraska and Rutgers is crucial to securing a halfway decent bowl game again a mid-level Power Five conference opponent.

Finishing the season 5-7 is the nightmare scenario and concluding with a 6-6 record and losing to a non-Power Five conference opponent in a bowl game in a meaningless December bowl game would irate the fan base and jeopardize the long-term plan.

The flip side of finishing the regular season 8-4 is unrealistic for this year’s team, so ideally a 7-5 finish with a bowl game victory should be the goal. However, how does this Spartan team reach this short-term goal?

Many Spartan fans are going to hate hearing this but the infamous “Tressel Ball” strategy of controlling the time of possession, running the football ad nauseam, playing to the strength of your team which is their defense, and not turning the ball over will be the plan moving forward.

LJ Scott is healthy with other running backs who have gained valuable experience in his absence ready to step up, the weather is not getting any better so the passing game will not be elevated and or improved along with the season-ending injury to Felton Davis III and the continued absence of White, and we are not sure if Lewerke will be able to play in the next week or two.

Offensive coordinator Dave Warner is also not going to step down or be fired, so the hope of a radical offense philosophy has a zero percent of happening, so embracing the Michigan State football offensive mentality moving forward is the only viable option. Is this music to the ears of Spartan fans? No, it is not. However, winning ugly is better than losing pretty.

The long-term plan is a very solid and obtainable approach moving forward. The short-term plan is risky and problematic in a sense that on paper it does not inspire a tremendous amount of optimism and hope.

Many fans thought that Michigan State had a zero-point-zero chance of winning on the road at then-No. 8 Penn State. Those same fans believe the same to be true this week as Purdue comes into town after defeating previously undefeated Ohio State by double digits. To those fans, you must look at what coach Mark Dantonio has done at Michigan State when it appears all hope has been lost.

I personally remember witnessing live at Spartan Stadium the loss at the hands of Notre Dame last season after Michigan State had come off a three-win season in 2016. Then Dantonio reminded us all that as long as he is here, the Spartans will always rebound and he proved that when Michigan State went on to beat Iowa and Michigan in back to back wins on their way to a four-game winning streak. They would go on to also beat Penn State and win their bowl game decisively to end the season with 10 wins.

To put it into perspective, allow this year’s Spartan team the opportunity to prove themselves. Allow the seniors Khari Willis, Scott, Andrew Dowell, David Beedle and Brandon Sowards a chance to finish out the season strong.

What does this mean exactly? Keep attending the games at Spartan Stadium and or watching the game at home on television or on your phone, do not go all negative on social media saying the season is lost, and most importantly don’t stop believing and trust that this coaching staff and this Spartan team has a few tricks up their sleeves and is willing to give everything they have on the football season moving forward.

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Believing is key and keeping the hope alive is essential. This season is not over and the future for Spartan football is very bright.