Grading the football team at the midpoint of the season
The midpoint of the 2014 college football season has arrived for the Spartans. With head coach Mark Dantonio's 100th game at MSU approaching this weekend against Indiana, football beat writers Robert Bondy and Geoff Preston grade MSU's season thus far.
If you had told a Spartan fan that they would be sitting at 5-1, ranked No. 8 and considered by many to be the class of the Big Ten, they would probably take it. That’s where MSU is halfway through the season. There are flaws with this team, but if the committee that selects the College Football Playoff does what they say they will do and only focusus on conference champions, MSU could be in a good spot.
Fans could have seen the loss to Oregon coming, and even though MSU let Nebraska back in the game, that win shows they can beat more than the likes of Eastern Michigan and Wyoming.
We’ll see how the Spartans finish the season, because the hard part of the schedule is coming now. Although Michigan has not looked as good as the Wolverines of previous seasons, with a rivalry game you can throw the records out the window. Ohio State coming to East Lansing Nov. 8 remains a potential season-making game.
Through the first half of the season, the MSU offense has often been described as sensational — and the numbers back it up. This past weekend, the Spartans racked up 45 points to set a MSU record for most points through six games. With its fourth game of at least 40 points, MSU now averages 45.5 points per game, which is the best in the Big Ten and ranks No. 4 in the country.
Not only has MSU experienced plenty of success as a team through the first six games, but multiple Spartans have shined in the spotlight. Senior wide receiver Tony Lippett has broken out as one of the Big Ten’s best wide receivers, averaging 110.5 receiving yards per game and nine total touchdowns. Junior quarterback Connor Cook has been consistent as well, averaging 218.2 passing yards per game and 15 total touchdowns through the first six games.
Combine the improved passing attack with a running game that is starting to improve — 482 rushing yards during last two games — and you have one of the nation’s most lethal offenses.
Last season’s defensive performance could probably not be duplicated by a Spartan team for a long time, and with new players stepping in to fill roles previously held by NFL talent, many suspected the defense would be a step back from last season.
That being said, especially last Saturday against Purdue, the defense gave up too many big plays against an offense that the Spartans should dominate. The rush defense has looked good for 90 percent of the season, but the secondary has been a concern.
As great as Kurtis Drummond was last season, he has to improve in the second half of this sesaon, especially when playing against the run. Drummond has had success against some of the weaker passing offenses (such as picking off a pass against Jacksonville State and Wyoming) and has struggled against others.
Through the first six games, MSU developed a solid special teams unit, reducing the number of mistakes. When looking at special teams, it’s key for the unit to simply not make mistakes that can cost your team the game. MSU has lived up to that thus far.
The kickoff and kick return team has been consistent, with sophomore wide receiver R.J. Shelton creating a number of big plays in the return game. Shelton averages 22.9 yards per return and has come close to breaking off a couple of returns for a touchdown. The same can be said about junior wide receiver Macgarrett Kings Jr. in punt returns, proving to be slippery when given the opportunity.
The unit as a whole has committed turnovers — including muffed punts and a failed fake punt — and surrendered a near-costly punt return for a touchdown against Nebraska. Cleaning up the big mistakes or plays against will be key for the unit moving forward.