Column: Michigan State's short-term issues have become long-term
On Saturday afternoon, then-No. 20 Michigan State had an opportunity to prepare itself for the next two weeks against No. 11 Penn State and No. 15 Michigan.
Against Northwestern (2-3, 2-1 in Big Ten), the Spartans (3-2, 1-1) needed to show up in the fourth quarter, have better offensive play calling and the defense needed to limit opposing quarterback’s success while the run defense stayed stout.
While the run defense showed why it’s the best in the nation, allowing 8 yards on 20 carries, the rest is what we’ve seen for most of this season. Which resulted in a 29-19 loss to the Wildcats, who lost to Akron 39-34 earlier in the season.
“It felt like it was just spinning out of control and some of the things we have control over and we can change,” coach Mark Dantonio said after the Northwestern loss. “Those are the things that I'm frustrated about. Some of the things we cannot change because of execution by Northwestern, but some of the things can change because of our execution or how things went down and those are the things that we have to concentrate on.”
And those issues turned from early-season, short-term problems to season-long issues.
Especially with the running attack ranked 104th in the nation going into Saturday. While averaging 4 yards a carry against Northwestern, take away a 48-yard touchdown run by wide receiver Felton Davis III, and MSU averaged 2.1 yards a carry.
And Davis was the leading rusher against the Wildcats, rushing for 50 yards on two carries. The next leading rusher was running back La’Darius Jefferson with six carries and 15 rushing yards. In other words, the Spartans haven’t been able to replace running back LJ Scott, who’s currently out with an ankle injury.
All of which has been a result of a lack of execution by an offense and its play callers that knew it had high potential going into the season, according to co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner.
“Potential doesn't mean anything unless you follow through with it, and reach that potential,” Warner said. “Obviously, we haven't, and we're going to continue to try and find ways to get there because we have good football players on our team. We have good players on our offense, and we're not playing to our potential."
Defensively, the run defense is the best in the nation and it showed Saturday, as said before. But, the pass defense was allowing 288.3 yards per game, which was good for 114th in the country going into Saturday.
Which Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson exposed, completing 31-of-47 passes for 373 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions and also running it in for a touchdown.
Combine that with the Spartans being outscored 62-18 in the fourth quarter, and it can frustrate a team.
“You gotta play four quarters,” linebacker Joe Bachie said. “Our one goal at the top of our list this week was one play focus. So every week you gotta focus on something, and this week was one play focus and take it a play at a time and do your job that play. People were making mistakes. They (took) advantage of them.”
And teams will continue to take advantage of MSU until it fixes its offensive play calling and late-game blunders, especially with back-to-back games against No. 8 Penn State and No. 12 Michigan.
If they don’t, MSU won’t come close to its goal of going to the Big Ten championship in November.
Which the team is well aware of.
“We're going to have look in the mirror, look at ourselves and regroup,” safety Khari Willis said. “We are making mistakes that we shouldn't be on both sides of the ball. I can attest to that and we need to make a commitment to be better and that starts in practice and with the leaders and trickles down to everyone else.”