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MSU had flashes, but at wrong times

November 22, 2005

The Spartans' offense could only make up for a lackluster defense and special teams for so long this season, as MSU watched a 4-0 start evaporate into a 5-6 final record. If anything was evident from the 2005 Spartans football team, it's that one player cannot be relied upon to win games and that football is a team game. Here are the State News football reporters' final grades for the team:

Offense: C+

Spartans fans had a reason to be excited about the potential of the offense after the team put up big points against Kent State, Hawaii, Notre Dame and Illinois in its first four games.

Despite losses against Michigan and Ohio State, the offense continued to do some good things, but took a turn for the worse when it put up only 14 points against a lowly ranked Northwestern defense.

Turnovers, dropped passes, conservative play calling and injuries were the story of the offense's second half of the season as it turned from a juggernaut to inconsistency.

Senior receiver Kyle Brown was bothered by an ankle injury for several games, taking away from the passing attack. The absence of senior offensive tackle Stefon Wheeler at key times made it far too easy for defensive lineman to pressure junior quarterback Drew Stanton.

Stanton had a remarkable year statistically, throwing for 22 touchdowns and undoubtedly reigning as the team's most valuable player. But a thumb injury and costly turnovers in the latter half of the year still leaves the glass only half full as he enters his senior year of play.

Perhaps the most consistent aspect of the offense was the running back position. Freshman Javon Ringer is the program's future at this position and he was complemented well this season by sophomore Jehuu Caulcrick and senior Jason Teague.

In the end though, it's the mistakes and inconsistency in the big games that drew the line between good and great.

Defense: D

Although the defense looked good against walk-overs such as Kent State, Hawaii, Illinois and Indiana, they were exposed in nearly every other game, giving up big plays, rarely blitzing and allowing opposing receivers too big of a cushion on pass routes.

The defensive line is obviously a sore spot. Other than senior Domata Peko's fumble return against Michigan, they did nothing of substance all season. Senior Brandon McKinney has to be the biggest disappointment of the bunch, recording just 25 tackles with no sacks.

The starting line recorded just five sacks all season.

The linebackers had their moments, but missing tackles at key plays led to their demise.

Sophomore Sir Darean Adams showed some promise in his first season on defense. He led the team with three interceptions and tied for second on the team with two sacks.

With almost no pass rush, a lot of pressure was put on the secondary and they could not respond.

Junior Demond Williams and senior Ashton Watson tried but in most cases, couldn't do the job.

Senior Jaren Hayes was burned time after time before finally being put on the bench in close games.

Junior safety Greg Cooper did next to nothing all year.

The lone bright spot was senior safety Eric Smith, whose 101 tackles were 36 more than the next closest player on the team.

Special teams: F

This is the place where nothing went right for the Spartans all season long.

Outside of the opening kick-off return by Williams against Indiana, MSU struggled mightily all season.

The Spartans hit just five field goals all season, one from freshman Matt Haughey, the other four from junior John Goss. The longest kick they hit was Goss' 32-yarder against Ohio State.

Goss, for all intents and purposes, lost the job after missing two crucial kicks against U-M and being publicly berated by John L. Smith for how he reacted to the misses.

The Spartans hit just one field goal in the final five games of the season.

Junior punter Brandon Fields, a Ray Guy Award candidate last season, was ineffective in every game except against Ohio State. He had just two fair-catches called on his punts, a sign of almost no hang-time, which would allow the coverage to get downfield.

Fields also had a punt blocked (which was not his fault) against Penn State and bobbled a snap on a field goal attempt in the same game.

He was also at the head of the "fast field goal" controversy against Ohio State, as he called for the ball to be snapped with only 10 men on the field. This allowed a Buckeye to come unblocked and get to the kick, which was returned for a touchdown. That play has been pointed to as the turning point of the Spartans' season.

Coaching: D+

One play that the Spartans never fully recovered from was the blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown as the first half expired at Ohio State.

The play was as big a coaching blunder as the Spartans have seen in their recent era of mediocrity, and the mistake definitely spoiled any momentum MSU had at that time in the season.

Aside from that play, it seemed that the coaching staff lost trust in each other as the season wore on.

Offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin showed little creativity in play calling, and began calling plays about as conservatively as possible. The Spartans went from throwing it downfield to running the option on third and five.

Defensive coordinator Chris Smeland played a chess match with offenses all season. He opted to cover instead of blitz in many cases, only to see the defensive backs get torn apart. He failed to put together an aggressive game plan to make up for the holes in the defense.

But despite the questions about play calling and strategy, the whole category comes back to the team's head coach, John L. Smith.

Many times in press conferences, Smith would answer situation questions with, "I don't know."

If you don't know, how can you plan to fix it or learn from it?

Spartans fans saw the effects of that many times this season.


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