The Michigan State Spartans are 3-1 after today's 23-7 win against Eastern Michigan, with their lone loss coming at the hands of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in front of a national audience.
But ever since dismantling Central Michigan in Mt. Pleasant, the Spartans have struggled to score points.
If you take into account the four quarters against Notre Dame and the first half against Eastern Michigan, the Spartans scored a whopping three points. Three!
The defense, along with the bruising running back Le'Veon Bell, is keeping the team in games. But quarterback Andrew Maxwell and the receiving corps need to get things in gear—and fast.
Ohio State is on the schedule next week.
Le'Veon Bell carried the offense again. He had 253 rushing yards against Eastern Michigan, including a late touchdown to seal the victory. He also became the 16th player in MSU history to rush for 2,000 yards in his career.
But, an issue is that Bell is getting attacked by opposing defenses. Eastern was putting nine players in the box to stop Bell, and it still didn't work that well. If a team like Ohio State does that, then MSU may have some big problems. The exceptional tailback needs help from his quarterback and receivers to get some attention off him.
When Kirk Cousins graduated from Michigan State as one of the school's most accomplished quarterbacks, many knew it would take time for Andrew Maxwell to step in and be successful. He had been on the roster for years, but he never was a starter for a team that has won 11 games in back-to-back seasons.
Well, now people realize it's a lot harder than it looks.
Maxwell has had one solid outing out of four this season, and that was against Central Michigan two weeks ago. Since then, he has been harassed by opposing defenses and has had trouble making any real connection with receivers not named Dion Sims.
With the Buckeyes coming into town, Maxwell has to grow up fast and gain some confidence.
Catching a ball seems simple in essence, but it has become a chore for MSU's receivers. Maxwell has had bad numbers in part because his receivers have had trouble getting open and holding onto the ball.
The last two weeks (against Notre Dame and Eastern Michigan), the Spartans have had 10 drops and five drops, respectively. That is quite a lot of drops, quite a lot of scoring opportunities taken away and momentum-killing drives caused by their own butter fingers.
I understand some of the receivers are young, but some are seasoned and learned under guys like B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin—guys like Tony Lippett and Bennie Fowler. They need to step up and play better, not drop balls in the end zone or fumble away the football.
Maybe it's time to get the younger guys out there more.
I don't know if it was the preseason hype or success getting to players' heads, but these young men need to put their priorities in check and play for one another and not just themselves.
Case in point: William Gholston being benched to start the game against the Eastern Michigan Eagles.
According to The Detroit Free Press, Gholston was said to have been benched for missing too much practice time, and for an All-American type player, who is a staple on the Spartans' defensive line, that is just unacceptable. These players need to stop reading the press clippings and realize what the goals are for this team.
The defense is very, very good, but it is not as good when star players like Gholston are watching from the sidelines.
MSU's defense is still one of the best defenses in the country.
Players like Gholston, Max Bullough, Denicos Allen and Isaiah Lewis are a relentless unit that loves to fly toward the football and make plays. Even though the secondary allowed a touchdown pass to Eastern Michigan, they shored up and gave up no more points after that play. The second half was more impressive than the first.
A lot of this can be attributed to defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi and his fierce competitiveness. He amps up his players and gets them ready to go each and every game. If the offense matched the defense, this Spartans team would be very tough to beat.
Dan Conroy is having a tough go this season.
He is 7-of-11 this season and has missed field goals, all over 30 yards. He just looks a little more shaky than he did last season—when he was a great kicker. If some Big Ten games come down to the wire, you hope the kid will be able to step up and make a kick.
With the way MSU's offense has performed, the team needs all the points it can get—especially from their field goal kicker.
Dan Roushar, MSU's offensive coordinator, has not made the necessary adjustments at certain moments in games to help the offense rebound and be successful.
We saw that last week against Notre Dame when the offense strayed away from the run (only five carries in the second half) and put the game on the arms of Andrew Maxwell. I'm not saying it's all Roushar and none of Dantonio, but the playbook needs to be used to its full extent.
Use more play-action with Bell in the backfield or put Bell out wide. And here's a thought: Go deep! I haven't seen Maxwell launch a bomb all season long, and I don't know if it's because the coaches don't trust him or if they like the dink-and-dunk offense. MSU was successful when Kirk Cousins did such things.
I mentioned this in the previous slide, but where is the trickery and the intestinal fortitude?
Last year, we saw double reverses and flea flickers and deep passes, but this year, it seems things on offense have gotten way too conservative. This type of game plan is too easy to plan for, and when a team like Eastern Michigan can root out the plays before MSU's own offense can, it makes me weary.
Show some guts and go for the big play.
This one is solely on the players who have to make the plays.
When the defense is aggressive and forces a fumble and the offense has to go 40 yards for a touchdown, you need to play smart and get that touchdown. Field goals won't win games, and they won't win championships. Good teams take advantage of turnovers and get points off them.
The defense can only do so much until it's time for the offense to take over and be all-stars themselves.
This is simple: play smart from the opening kickoff. Don't wait until the third quarter to beat down a team like Eastern Michigan.
The good teams are ready from the beginning, ready to take over and control the flow of play. I don't know if it's the coaching or the motivation going into the game (and I won't speculate), but the teams that win championships don't take possessions for granted. The only game that MSU really came out and put the pedal to the metal was against Central Michigan.
It's time to unleash the dogs when they run through the tunnel.