New season, same situation?
Two seasons, two identical records.
That’s the situation facing the MSU football team (3-1) following a weekend loss to No. 22 Notre Dame after opening victories against Western Michigan, South Florida and Youngstown State.
When talking about this season’s team, it’s tough not to look back to the 2012 campaign, where the Spartans defeated Boise State, Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan while also getting beaten by the Fighting Irish, albeit by a far more lopsided score.
With the Big Ten season opening up Oct. 5 against Iowa — a team who bested MSU in 2012 — it’s essential to determine if history is destined to repeat itself for the Spartans, who have had Rose Bowl aspirations in both seasons but only managed to stumble to a 7-6 mark a season ago.
2012: Andrew Maxwell- 869 passing yards, three passing touchdowns and three interceptions
2013: Connor Cook- 411 passing yards, five passing touchdowns
Following the departure of quarterback Kirk Cousins, then-junior Andrew Maxwell was the heir apparent to take over the MSU offense in 2012. And through four games, Maxwell appeared to be trending upward.
Taking away a three interception game against Boise State, Maxwell only was slightly behind Cousins’ first four starts in an 11-win season in 2011. However, Maxwell’s inconsistency through the duration of the season opened the door for a four-headed quarterback battle in 2013.
Although Maxwell received the first start of the year against Western Michigan … , the reins of the offense were turned over to sophomore quarterback Connor Cook … against South Florida and he’s been the starter in wins against USF and Youngstown State and a loss to Notre Dame.
Cook has yet to break 300 yards passing this season — a feat Maxwell did not reach a season ago. But Cook also has yet to turn the ball over, which has been an asset to a struggling offensive unit.
2012: Le’Veon Bell- 117 carries, 610 rushing yards, five rushing touchdowns
2013: Jeremy Langford- 58 carries, 268 yards, four rushing touchdowns
Make no mistake, Le’Veon Bell was a workhorse in 2012.
Running through and jumping over defenders, Bell started strong in 2012 and carried the game through to the end, where he won the Big Ten rushing title and led the nation in yards after contact.
Without Bell in 2013, the Spartans have employed a running back by committee system, splitting carries between juniors Jeremy Langford and Nick Hill along with redshirt freshman Riley Bullough. Langford has been a solid option for the Spartans but only has 55 more rushing yards than the team’s next highest rusher, Hill.
2012: Dion Sims- 22 receptions, 277 yards, two touchdowns
2013: Macgarrett Kings Jr.- 13 receptions, 136 yards, two touchdowns
The question with Dion Sims was not whether he was capable of making plays, but if the Spartans could get him on the field long enough to do so.
After pleading guilty to charges of receiving and concealing stolen property in a ring of laptop thefts in Detroit, Sims was forced to sit out the entire 2010 season. But when he returned to the field in 2011, the Spartans had no larger target than the 6-foot-5, 285-pound tight end.
Now that Sims has moved along to the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, the Spartans have yet to establish a target of Sims’ caliber to offset the continued wide receiver woes. The closest has been sophomore wide receiver Macgarrett Kings Jr., who is starting to establish a strong connection with sophomore quarterback Connor Cook.
Kings has touchdown catches in back-to-back games against Youngstown State and Notre Dame, moving him ahead of older wide receiver teammates including senior Bennie Fowler and junior Tony Lippett.
One of the biggest storylines of MSU’s season has been the success of the team’s defensive unit.
Despite the offensive setbacks, sophomore defensive end Shilique Calhoun and junior safety Kurtis Drummond made headlines with their touchdowns in the first three games of 2013.
Calhoun continues to be on many of the nation’s Defensive Player of the Year lists while Drummond has been one of the leaders in a standout secondary unit.
The touchdowns are more impressive considering the defense did not register a single touchdown in 2012.
2012: Dan Conroy- 7-for-11, long of 50 yards (twice)
2013: Kevin Muma- 4-for-6, long of 30 yards
It was a difficult season for Dan Conroy in 2012.
Although he has a strong leg, the then-senior kicker missed nine field goals on 32 attempts during the season. And considering the Spartans lost six games by an average of five points, much of the blame for a disappointing season was directed at Conroy.
As a result, senior kicker Kevin Muma came into 2013 with a much shorter leash, eventually being pulled after a missed field goal against Notre Dame in favor of freshman kicker Michael Geiger. Head coach Mark Dantonio said Geiger will be the Spartans’ starting kicker moving forward and he’s made both field goals he’s attempted this season.
Dantonio, after losing to Notre Dame:
2012: “All of our goals are in front of us.”
2013: “You have opportunities to do (score), but you’re talking about inches at times. That’s the thing that bit us last year.”
Two of Mark Dantonio’s most popular clichés were uttered following back-to-back losses to Notre Dame.
Dantonio used the popular “all of our goals are in front of us” line for much of the 2012 season, echoing the words following many of the team’s losses.
The usage of “inches,” referring to the Spartans losing games by few small plays or instances, was introduced toward the end of 2012 and once again has resurfaced throughout fall camp and into this season.