Time To Reevaluate

Time To Reevaluate

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Time To Reevaluate

Michigan State’s rough 29-19 loss at home to Northwestern on Saturday suggests the prospects for the 2018 season need to be reevaluated. 

Contact @crowleysullivan

We can look at the stats and try to find the silver linings but the stats would be a hard place to find those silver linings,

We can dissect the game film and listen to the post game quotes from the players who appear to be just as committed as they appeared to be in August.

We can continue to look at the realities related to the injuries the Michigan State Spartans have sustained up an down the roster over the first five games of the season.

But, the cold, hard truth in the aftermath of Saturday’s 29-19 loss to Northwestern at Spartan Stadium is that this team appears to be a long way from where everyone thought it was going to be five games in.

I expected this team to be 5-0 right now.

Very few of The Experts who are apoplectic right now were certain of the Spartans’ futility in August.

Everyone was high on this team – and for good reason.

But it’s not panning out.

The 29-19 home loss to a Northwestern team that was 1-3 coming into the game – on a three-game losing streak – is among the uglier losses of the Dantonio Era.

There isn’t any real way getting around that harsh reality.

As we said all last week, Northwestern is to be respected because they’ve earned that respect in the way they now have beaten the Spartans three games in a row and four out of the last five with three of those four coming at Spartan Stadium.

While that’s all to be respected, it’s not something the Michigan State football program should allow.

The sky isn’t falling, season tickets don’t need to be turned in, and the idea that the entire program is lost and wandering through the wilderness is fairly silly.

But….

The inability to establish a running game is, of course, the most worrisome issue the Spartans have to address, to say the least.

The offensive line’s struggles seem to be getting worse.

The fact that Felton Davis led the Spartans in rushing on Saturday tells the story.

The inability to slow any passing game that’s been faced yet is next on the list of problems to address.

Clayton Thorson – yet again – had his way with the Spartan defense and finished 31 of 47 for 373 yards and 3 touchdowns.  His 2 interceptions wound up being somewhat irrelevant.

Northwestern’s Flynn Nagel is never going to be mistaken for Arizona State’s N’Keal Harry and Nagel finished the afternoon with 10 catches for 111 yards.

Michigan State had the ball for almost seven minutes more than Northwestern – but if you can’t do much with the ball, winning the time of possession battle ends up not mattering much.

Brian Lewerke actually had pretty good numbers – he wound up being 31 of 51 for 329 yards, a touchdown and an interception.  Not bad.

Felton Davis, of course, had another strong performance – 7 catches for 96 yards and the long touchdown run.

But, as I mentioned at the top, we could dig in on the stats and try to find the silver linings but we wouldn’t find a whole lot.

Michigan State couldn’t get a yard on a 4th and 1 from its own 11-yard line in a situation where the game – and, perhaps, the season – was in the balance.

It’s even less about the inability to get the yard on that specific play and, possibly, more about the idea that the failure to gain the yard in that moment was not surprising to just about everyone at Spartan Stadium – and, perhaps most problematic, that might include the Spartans themselves.

Last season, Michigan State was able to overcome what was becoming an obvious challenge with regard to the offense’s struggles to establish much of a ground game.

For any number of reasons – we’ll look at those reasons this week – the Spartans aren’t able to overcome the ground game problems.

When the fourth quarter starts, the Spartans, for some reason, seem to fall into a black hole.

The vultures who have had Dave Warner in their crosshairs for years are out in full force once again.

I’ve tried to keep in mind that Dave Warner is the same guy who was the man calling the plays during Big Ten Championship runs, during a College Football Playoff season, during a season when Michigan State had one of its most prolific offenses in the program’s history, and during last season’s dramatic turnaround that featured quite a bit of creativity considering the issues on the ground.

It’s not fair or productive to lay all of this at the feet of Dave Warner – but, like everyone else, Warner has a lot of work to do.

What does all of this mish-mashy stuff mean?

It means that the Spartans are a mess right now.

At 3-2 and 1-1 in the Big Ten, Michigan State has a huge challenge this Saturday against Penn State.

It’s hard enough to head into Happy Valley when everything is going well.

But when the team is, for the most part, a mess, it makes a trip to Penn State much more difficult.

But…

Perhaps this is looking at an empty glass and convincing myself that it’s a quarter-full – but – I’ll remind myself of what I’ve said before:

It would be a mistake to think that Mark Dantonio, his staff, and his players aren’t going to work at the whole thing and continue to try to find the answers.

A victory at Penn State seems highly unlikely.

But while I’m not suggesting it’s an “apples to apples” comparison, we all recall worrying about every aspect of the team when the Spartans headed into Columbus in 2015 without Connor Cook able to play and with Ohio State looking unbeatable on Senior Day and that day finished this way:

Just when people want to count this program out, it usually finds a way to remind everyone that it’s not going anywhere.

Let’s give the Spartans the time and the chances to continue to get some guys healthy.

Let’s see if the pass defense can tighten up even just a little bit.

Let’s see if Michigan State has fight in it this Saturday.

It seems to me like this Michigan State team perhaps above all else, lacks a major component of what has made the program successful over the last decade – that fight that makes it a foregone conclusion that a yard can be gained any time, anywhere, under any circumstances.

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