I couldn’t bring myself to post after Michigan State’s incredibly disappointing 20-3 home loss to rival Notre Dame. While some would look at the score and think Notre Dame “dominated”, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. ND amassed 300 total yards of offense to MSU’s 237. The Fighting Irish possessed the ball for 30 minutes, 40 seconds compared to Sparty’s 29 minutes, 20 seconds. Notre Dame QB Everett Golson didn’t even complete 50 percent of his passes. Leading MSU rusher Le’Veon Bell rushed the ball only four times in the entire second half, even though the Spartans entered it down only 14-3. Notre Dame picked up 16 first downs while Michigan State picked up 15. On third down, ND was 1-14 while MSU was a slightly more respectable 5-17.
For whatever reason, Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio felt that continuing to feed Bell the ball in the second half wasn’t an effective strategy, but having (sort of) rookie QB Andrew Maxwell throw the ball 45 times throughout the entire game was. Granted, the Irish front four is stout and their secondary is inexperienced, but this is the same QB who hadn’t taken advantage in his two previous games against Boise St. and Central Michigan, both with inferior defenses to Notre Dame. Bell finished with 77 yards on 19 carries, a bit over 4 yards per carry. Maxwell completed 23 of 45 passes for only 187 yards, with a decent chunk of them coming when the Irish were simply trying to close the game out. Ah, Dantonio. You lost me once again.
How did Sparty follow up that craptacular performance? With an equally craptacular performance against lowly Eastern Michigan. With just about everyone expecting MSU to absolutely demolish Eastern, the Spartans actually found themselves losing late in the third quarter before kicker Dan Conroy nailed a 35-yard field goal to put them ahead 9-7 with 1:11 left. Maxwell was slightly better in this one, finishing 16-29 for 159 yards and a touchdown against no picks. However, and once again, Le’Veon Bell was a man. Bell toted the rock a ridiculous 36 times (ridiculous because the opponent was Eastern and he probably should have had only half that total) for 253 yards and a 1-yard touchdown run very late in the fourth quarter that effectively iced the game for them.
The defense was impressive, as it should have been, but I believe it was the inept offense that drew the ire of the Sparty faithful. MSU didn’t score their first touchdown of the game until 12:47 was left in the fourth quarter and before that, besides Bell, the O did not look like one of a B10 contender. Fans expect much more from a team coming off back-to-back 11-win seasons and I suppose the booing showed as much. While Dantonio and school president Lou Anna K. Simon weren’t pleased with the booing, I didn’t have much of a problem with it. Yes, these are college students and they aren’t getting paid to play, but I feel that after high school, this is just a part of the game. I never booed when I was a student, but then again, the football team wasn’t really expected to do much, either. I’d like to think that those who booed weren’t directing them towards the players, but the tired, stale offensive scheme that hasn’t been very successful thus far.
#20 Michigan State (3-1, 2-1 Home) vs. #14 Ohio State (4-0, 0-0 Away)
Finally, conference play starts and the first challenge for Sparty is…well…a challenge. New Ohio St. head coach Urban Meyer will lead his Buckeyes into East Lansing for their first road game of the 2012 season while the Spartans will try to find a little bit of consistent offense outside of Bell to go with their stingy defense.
True sophomore QB Braxton Miller is the Buckeyes’ leading passer and rusher. It has been only four games, but it seems that Miller runs Meyer’s spread offense fairly well. Ignore the fact that OSU is ranked 52nd nationally in total offense. Once Meyer can recruit players he feels best fit his system, we’ll more than likely see offensive production similar to his Utah and Florida teams. Their defense is in the lower half of the nation in regards to total yards allowed and this could possibly be the game Maxwell breaks out. Again, he could possibly break out. The Buckeyes are one of the worst in the nation when it comes to defending the pass, and that combined with some familiarity could be what the Spartans average passing game needs.
Michigan State has stopped Michigan’s dual-threat QB Denard Robinson the past two years and should be able to at least contain Miller. Miller, who is much bigger and stronger than Robinson, has been the go-to guy for the Buckeyes. While he’s passed and run the ball with ease so far, he hasn’t gone up against a defense like Sparty’s. Despite OSU’s paltry pass defense, the Spartans would be best served establishing the run with Bell and then picking apart the OSU secondary when the opportunities present themselves. In fact, with Bell being recognized as one of the elite runners in the nation to this point, Maxwell could find things in the passing game to be a bit easier than they have been to this point.
After opening the ’12 season with a 56-10 win over Miami of Ohio, Ohio St. has struggled a bit in its last three games against UCF, California and UAB, respectively. In their 29-15 win over the UAB Blazers, the Buckeyes got off to a slow start before scoring three touchdowns in the second quarter. Senior RB Jordan Hall carried the ball 17 times for 102 yards and Miller ran for two scores. UAB K Ty Long made a 34-yard field goal to bring the score to 21-15 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, but that was as close as the Blazers would get.
Like last year, the two schools will play their first conference game of the year against each other. Last year’s 10-7 MSU win in Columbus was one of the uglier football games I’ve ever seen, regardless of level. The Spartan defense smothered the Buckeyes’ offense as they snapped a 7-game losing streak to one of their chief rivals.
Clearly, this Spartans team isn’t as talented as last year’s squad, especially on the offensive side of the football. The experienced offensive line has to get it going against the Buckeyes D. We’ve seen that it doesn’t necessarily take an elite defense to take advantage of the Spartans’ early offensive woes, especially when trying to move the ball through the air. This Buckeyes team could be looking to replicate University of Southern California’s 2011 season, when the Trojans were literally playing for nothing, but went on to win 10 games, including a 38-35 road win over the then 4th-ranked Oregon Ducks which knocked the Ducks out of national title contention.
Michigan State can still salvage this season and play for a B10 title. Assuredly, Ohio St. is looking to play the role of spoiler. Braxton Miller is a bit more experienced, but he hasn’t looked that great against average defenses. Let’s hope that’s the determining factor in this matchup. If it is, MSU wins, 17-14.