Michigan State Football: How much more time will fans give Mark Dantonio?

STATE COLLEGE, PA - OCTOBER 13: Head coach Mark Dantonio of the Michigan State Spartans looks on 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: Head coach Mark Dantonio of the Michigan State Spartans looks on against the Penn State Nittany Lions on October 13, 2018 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

After a couple of disappointing seasons in the past three years, how much more time will fans give Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio?

Michigan State football isn’t known as one of the nation’s most storied programs. The school does have the NCAA’s third-longest streak of having at least one player get drafted at 79 years which trails only Michigan and USC at 81 years each, according to MLive.com.

Outside of this record, however, and a few decades like the 1950s and 1960s, Michigan State football hasn’t been a national powerhouse, which is why Mark Dantonio was one of the greatest things to happen to the Spartans.

Tom Izzo had already blessed the banks of the Red Cedar with a handful of Final Four appearances as well as a national title, but the football program was still consistently mediocre. When Dantonio had his famous press conference that included questions about Michigan running back Mike Hart’s “little brother” comments, there was some fire in the coach’s eyes.

That fire paid off.

Three Big Ten championships, five bowl wins, a Rose Bowl victory, a College Football Playoff appearance and not to mention three Spartans selected in the first round of the NFL draft over the last 10 seasons. Despite having all the success, two of the last three of those 10 years, 2016 and 2018, to be exact, haven’t been so kind to Spartan fans.

Coming off of a College Football Playoff high, Michigan State fans were expecting the program to stay on track and continue with its winning ways. The 2016 recruiting class was promising, too. Donnie Corley, Josh King, what could go wrong? A lot.

Some woes weren’t a shock as veterans like tackle Jack Conklin, quarterback Connor Cook and defensive end Shilique Calhoun were gone, but a 3-9 season was far from expected. Even the media were ready for another successful run as the preseason AP poll had the Spartans ranked at No. 12.

Spartan fans had some sad Saturdays — you could call them “Football Sad-urdays” — during the 2016 season, but Dantonio had earned a pass because of all the success he had brought in the years prior.

It seemed like things wouldn’t get any better as the aforementioned players, Corley and King, along with Demetric Vance, were kicked off the team for sexual assault.

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What Dantonio had managed to do despite the tough offseason record-wise was very impressive. A 10-3 record with wins over then Michigan, Penn State and Washington State in the Holiday Bowl. This wasn’t an easy feat, and any Spartan fan will be the first in line to tell you how much respect they had for Dantonio after that season, but someone has to play devil’s advocate here.

The offense showed little to no improvement. In some areas statistically, the offense actually regressed. The 2016 team netted 395 yards and 24.1 points per game and scored 35 touchdowns on the year (two being defensive). The 2017 team racked up 383.1 yards and 24.5 points per game while scoring 39 touchdowns on the season (one defensive). A slight — emphasis on slight — increase in points per game, and a few more touchdowns isn’t a massive improvement.

These regressions, or lack of improvements, on offense were excused because of a young team all around, which is a fair point to bring up. Brian Lewerke wasn’t used as much his first year and because of that, some bumps in the road were expected. He was surrounded by weapons that would only become more lethal in the offseason.

It seems that these excuses were overshadowing the fact that Lewerke still needed some work. Yes, Lewerke was a diamond in the rough that had back to back games in which he passed for more than 400 yards, but he was still a project. He had thrown for more than 300 yards in only three games and completed less than 60 percent of his passes on the year.

It wasn’t until the 2018 season that these issues were pointed out. When the average points per game dropped below 19, the offensive line provided no support for the backfield, and Lewerke was clearly struggling, it was apparent that this wasn’t one of Dantonio’s better years. Add the fact that the defense was ranked No. 10 in total defense according to NCAA.com, and No. 6 among Power Five schools, it shows that lacking even a slightly above average offense was a waste of some great defensive talent.

After a season like this, you’d expect the chain of command to change, but Dave Warner is still on the coaching staff. Yes, he has been demoted from offensive coordinator, but the simple fact that Dantonio can’t recognize his team is struggling with Warner is enough to frustrate Spartan fans.

After all of this has been said, how much longer will Dantonio have to prove his coaching method works? He has produced some great players out of three-star and four-star talents and he’s brought a lot of joy to East Lansing on Saturdays, but he needs to retain that joy before Spartan fans get upset and it seems that some already have.

This change might still work out, and Dantonio has a chance to prove that this year. Given the recent disappointment in the past few years, it doesn’t seem too likely that this shift will work.

Defense wins championships, and that’s evident with recent Spartan teams, but lacking an offense has proven to hold Michigan State back.

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Coaches are expected to win games, and in this case, that’s more important than loyalty. If it was just a rough year, it would be excusable. All programs go through rough patches, but the stats don’t lie with this team. Dantonio needs to be the boss and make a change in his program because if he doesn’t, he might not be the guy making decisions anymore.