Friday, February 28, 2020

Column: Michigan State Football can thrive, but only if Dantonio can address his own limitations

January 30, 2020
Redshirt freshman running back Elijah Collins (24) stiff arms a defender during the game against Illinois Nov. 9, 2019 at Spartan Stadium.
Redshirt freshman running back Elijah Collins (24) stiff arms a defender during the game against Illinois Nov. 9, 2019 at Spartan Stadium. —
Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

Two separate seasons. Two program wins. 

A lot of comparisons have been drawn between the 2012 football season and this last season, as coach Mark Dantonio and the Michigan State Spartans in the regular season finales of both seasons became bowl-eligible. In both seasons, he dubbed their final regular season wins as “program wins,” — 2012 at Minnesota and 2019 against Maryland.

A lot of doubt has been cast over the program and its direction after back-to-back 7-6 seasons, and rightfully so. However, I’m here to tell you that there is reason for hope, but only if Dantonio can finally address the issues that have plagued this team for the last four seasons. 

Even in these tough times, Dantonio has continued to build elite-level defenses. He has done that time and time again, and I think he’s earned the trust of fans of having at the very least a good defense each season. With guys like linebacker Antjuan Simmons returning, someone who could have went pro but wants to succeed here in East Lansing, I think Dantonio still has the ability to coach a great defense. 

It’s on offense, though, where the key issue has been for the last few seasons. There is reason for optimism next season though with the talent returning. Elijah Collins was only 12 yards way from being the first 1,000-yard MSU rusher since 2014. The receivers are young and could be one of the most talented groups Dantonio has had. Even with Cody White’s departure, the Spartans will lineup with Jalen Nailor, Tre Mosley, Jayden Reed and tight end Trenton Gillison. On the offensive line, things can only get better, considering they were ranked No. 114 out of 130 FBS teams by Pro Football Focus. 

The quarterback position and who’s calling the plays is where the questions arise for the offense. With all-time yards leader Brian Lewerke departing, who fills the void? Is it the man with real game experience in Rocky Lombardi, or one of the young guns such as Payton Thorne or Theo Day?

Regardless of who it is going to be, the decision should not be up to Dantonio, it should be  offensive coordinator Brad Salem’s decision. 

When Dantonio decided to shuffle his staff, he bet the house on Salem. It is time he finally trusts him, joins the crowd and gives Salem the keys to the offense and allow him to choose the quarterback that he wants to build his ideal offense. 

Before coming to MSU, Salem was the head coach at Augustana College, a Division II school out in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. At Augustana, Salem spread the ball out, and it worked. He created an offense that was ranked fourth in Division II in total offense and third in scoring.  

In the bowl game, it seemed as if Dantonio did give Salem the keys in a way. We saw some RPOs with Lewerke and saw Salem set up MSU’s athletic playmakers like Nailor and Collins out in space to create big plays. 

But, too many times we saw on first and second down back-to-back run plays straight up the middle for no gain, forcing an improbable third-and-long situation. 

Dantonio has the ability to succeed. He shown us that time and time again. However, he has to grow and delegate some responsibilities to his staff and allow them to bring fresh ideas to the field. 

Dantonio over a year ago could have brought in a new guy, but he believed in Salem. He thought he could revamp an offense that had floundered in recent years. Now, it’s time he bets the house and hopes that Salem was the guy he thought he was when he decided to shuffle him into the coordinator spot. 

Discussion

Share and discuss “Column: Michigan State Football can thrive, but only if Dantonio can address his own limitations” on social media.