There’s plenty of excitement surrounding the Michigan State football program with the introduction of new head coach Jonathan Smith. The hire is a calculated risk as he has had success at a school where it’s hard to win, but the West Coast is all he has known throughout his coaching career.
While the Spartan culture is new to him, he said he is eager to learn the rich history of the program while implementing his own mantras and philosophies to bring success back to East Lansing.
Here’s a little cheat sheet on what to know about the Spartan football program.
1. Historically, MSU is a defense-first school, but fans are starved for offense
The rise of Michigan State football all started when Mark Dantonio was brought in to fix a mess left behind by another man named John (L.) Smith. He had a defensive background and this was his main philosophy that he ingrained in the Spartans.
At the time, the Big Ten was all about defense and running the ball and man oh man, when the Spartans were winning Big Ten titles, they were elite at both. From the “No Fly Zone” to -48 yards rushing, there’s no shortage of memorable defensive identities from the Michigan State Spartans. It’s not a coincidence that the only staff member from the Dantonio era to get a Power Five head coaching job was defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi. He was a mastermind as a coordinator and was beloved by Spartan fans in his peak years.
We loved it because along with NFL talent, there were role players who didn’t play for glory, they played for the love of the sport and for one another. For every Trae Waynes or Darqueze Dennard, there were five Darian Hicks, Denicos Allens, or Shilique Calhouns. Players that weren’t first-round talent but were the perfect fit for what Michigan State wanted to do.
But that was a different time in college football. It has become an offensive sport, and the Spartans are lagging behind heavily. Our last two offensive coordinators have been flat-out abysmal and outside of the magical 2021 season, have not finished higher than 91st in points per game in the last eight years.
We don’t even know what a good offense looks like anymore.
Jonathan Smith could have this team ranked 75th in scoring and we would rate him higher than Andy Reid. The Michigan State program ranks in the top 40 in recruiting regularly, is it too much to ask for a top 40 offense once in a while?
Luckily, Smith is an offensive-minded coach. He was a successful quarterback for Oregon State in his playing days and has averaged over 30 points per game over the last three seasons as a coach. His offense is rooted in running the football but has lots of pre-snap motion to set up the perfect mismatch for each play. His offensive line coach continues to get nominated for accolades like the Broyles Award for best assistant coach as well as the Joe Moore Award for best offensive line in football.
I’m a firm believer in the offensive line being the No. 1 key to offensive success so this is music to my ears. The offensive line was supposed to be a strength for the Spartans this season and nothing could have been further from the truth. Missed assignments, poor communication, and just a lack of overall cohesiveness led to the quarterback getting murdered every game and our running backs having zero (0) rushing touchdowns in Big Ten play, which is outrageous.
Running backs and tight ends should thrive in the new offense.