Major Concerns, But... "The world didn't end yesterday..."

Major Concerns, But... "The world didn't end yesterday..."

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Major Concerns, But... "The world didn't end yesterday..."

#10 Ohio State delivered a thumping to the #18 Spartans in East Lansing on Saturday. Michigan State has plenty of work to do and the season has been a frustrating one. So, what are the things to consider in these final weeks?

Contact @crowleysullivan

I read a Twitter from a Michigan State Twitter person this morning and it said –

“Good morning, ‘yall.  I know it’ll surprise some of you but the world didn’t end yesterday.”

This Twitter comes, of course, in response to #10 Ohio State’s 26-6 thumping of #18 (not for long) Michigan State at Spartan Stadium on Saturday.

That’s my kind of Twitter.

Thank you, Tara – @TaraStafford.

She’s right.

Let’s talk about how and why Tara is right.

We’ll start with the obvious.

SPARTAN DEFENSE IS BEASTLY NO MATTER WHAT ANYONE WANTS TO COMPLAIN ABOUT

The Michigan State defense is an absolute monster and there isn’t any disputing this.

The facts speak for themselves.

The Spartans’ rush defense is very much the #1 unit against the run and it was evident all afternoon against a Buckeye ground game that gashed Michigan State for something like 769 yards on the ground a year ago in Columbus.

Coming into the game, Ohio State was averaging 178 yards per game – Michigan State pretty much stuffed the Buckeyes and held them to 120 yards on 45 carries for 2.7 yards per carry.

Give the Buckeye offensive line credit for managing to help Mike Weber gain 104 yards for the game on 22 carries with a touchdown.

However, even Urban Meyer acknowledged the way Webber had to earn the yards.

“I just want to say I have tremendous respect for their program and Coach Dantonio,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “We knew exactly what this would be, and it went that way. It was November football at Michigan State. Mike Weber ran for 100 yards, and I would have to say 75 percent of those were post-contact yards, so he ran really hard. Everything about going against that defense was really hard.”

That first part of Meyer’s comments – we’ll have much more to say on that later.

But for now…

The Spartan defensive front is fierce, fast, tough, determined, disciplined, and there is every reason to believe it will be just as tough – perhaps even tougher – next season.

How about the way Michigan State defended Dwayne Haskins and the Buckeye passing game?

Haskins entered the game as the nation’s #2 quarterback from a statistical perspective, having averaged 339 yards through the air per game and piling up 32 touchdowns against just 6 interceptions.

Haskins had a fine game against Michigan State, finishing the day having gone 24 for 39 with 227 yards and a touchdown.

And Ohio State’s leading receiver for the afternoon?

Terry McClaurin had 5 catches for 63 yards.

If a Michigan State football fan had fallen into a coma due to having been afflicted with Trimethylminuria (known to the layperson as Fish Odor Syndrome) in late August, woke up yesterday around 5:30p et, and was shown merely those specific statistics, that person would likely say something along these lines –

“So, how much did State win this game by and are we in the CFP Top 4 or do we need to complain about having 11 SEC teams ahead of us including Old Miss State? And, why do I smell like an adolescent-aged lake sturgeon?”

The Michigan State defense couldn’t have a done much more on Saturday against Ohio State.

At one point, while the game was very much a game and the whole thing was looking kind of like it might be one of those masterpiece theaters directed by Mark Dantonio, Michigan State was asserting itself in the trenches and harassing Haskins into a bunch of 3rd down failures.

Michigan State had been holding opponents to a 31.8% 3rd down conversion rate, good for 13th in the nation.

The Buckeyes were 6 for 18 on 3rd down and while I can’t even help my kids with their mathematics homework since it causes me to have temporary dyslexia, I think those numbers mean that the Buckeye 3rd down conversion rate for the day was 33.3333333 (repeating)%.

That’s a pretty good defensive accomplishment for Michigan State.

WILLEKES

Kenny Willekes was, as he always is, an absolute beast and his numbers from the game, as usual, were eye-popping –

He was in on 13 tackles, had 4 solo stops (3.5 of them for losses), and he sacked Haskins once.

I’m not saying that Kenny Willekes is one of the best football players in the United States of America.

All I’m saying is that John U. Bacon has already written the first six chapters of what will be his cloying love letter, homage, and opus to this year’s Michigan vs Ohio State game (to be strategically published prior to the game, just in case, you know, fate fails to cooperate with what The Circus believes is preordained).

MORE SPARTAN DEFENSE

Michigan State gave up a total of 347 yards to the Buckeyes.

Ohio State was averaging 547 yards of total offense entering Saturday’s game.

I’m not saying that the Spartans stymied Ohio State’s prolific offense.

All I’m saying is that the Michigan guy who is the football staff’s director of recruiting is def and rad and crank and really lit when it comes to his important Twitters and he should definitely have his own reality TV show – or, at the very least, his own YouTube channel because that guy is really impressive in the way he rocks it.

HOWEVER, THE SPARTAN OFFENSE MIGHT BE AFFLICTED BY TRIMETHYLMINURIA (KNOWN TO THE LAYPERSON AS FISH ODOR SYNDROME)

Unfortunately, the aforementioned Spartan fan who had hypothetically awoken from his/her coma caused by Trimethylminuria (known to the layperson as Fish Odor Syndrome) would have needed to have been given the news that the Michigan State offense exists in the manner that it does.

Michigan State rushed for 54 yards against a Buckeye rush defense that has spent most of this season daydreaming about the year-end cupcake party held annually here –

Somehow or other, Michigan State was able to cobble together 220 yards of offense through the air – and, on a piece of paper or a computer machine of some sort, that number doesn’t really look all that bad.

But that number is a good example of how a statistic doesn’t always tell the full story.

Michigan State’s quarterbacks – and, we’ll get to that shortly – finished with these numbers: 18 for 48, 220 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 1 interception.

Michigan State was 2 for 16 on 3rd downs.

Let’s shine a light on Cody White’s performance for a moment –

This kid caught 8 passes for 115 yards, good for an average of 14.4 yards per catch.

Cody White’s absence after his broken hand has had a dramatic impact on Michigan State’s offensive struggles for much of the season.

And while it’s never an excuse, as we’ve said many times, it’s a factor when we consider the injuries this offense has had to work through.

Felton Davis?

What sort of an impact would a healthy Felton Davis have had in the second half against Michigan and in this game against Ohio State?

The offensive line?

LJ Scott?

The starting quarterback who set records as a sophomore a year ago en route to leading the team to a 10-3 record?

Just so we’re not misinterpreted by those really smart, clever, substantially-followed, and customarily avant-garde Michigan Twitterers who read these pieces and then ask me silly questions with their Twitters, Michigan State wasn’t going to beat Michigan or Ohio State this season – the Spartans clearly have needed more than a healthy Cody White and a healthy Felton Davis.

But the offensive line situation and the injury Lewerke has had to deal with – pile that all up and it’s fair to wonder what the season would have been like had the injuries not become one of the team’s major challenges.

It sure would have been interesting to see how some of the ugly offensive execution by the Spartans would have been helped by some of these guys merely being on the field during times when they were not on the field.

So, what is the problem?

LEWERKE AND LOMBARDI – WHAT TO DO?

The hardest part for Michigan State football fans – and, maybe, if we can say this without sounding like the typical Monday Morning Quarterback basement dwelling typists and Twitterers who have all of the answers, the Michigan State coaching staff – is that the answers aren’t easy.

But it sure does seem to start with the issues related to the quarterback position.

We maintain what we’ve said for a long time now – Brian Lewerke has a ton of potential and to not acknowledge that demonstrates either an axe to grind or just an inability to understand things that have already been accomplished.

Lewerke is, obviously, hurt.

He’s said it.

His comments after Saturday’s loss to the Buckeyes were sort of sad – and they were rather revealing.

“I thought it was pretty embarrassing overall by the offense today, “said the junior who also remains one of the captains of this football team.

“We couldn’t pass the ball very well, couldn’t run the all very well. We had a lot of turnovers, didn’t have a lot of time of possession, were 2 for 16 on third down.  We did not play well.”

From this perspective, Brian Lewerke continues to handle this very challenging situation with admirable maturity and leadership – even as he shows a bit of confusion and frustration.

“I know I can’t make some throws that I want to with how my arm is right now,” said Lewerke. “Just trying to give Rocky a chance because his arm is a lot stronger and ready to go.”

Lewerke sort of acknowledged that he’s given some thought to shutting down his arm and shoulder for the rest of this season in order to properly rest it and, presumably, get himself back to 100% for what still has the makings of another season with very real potential in 2019.

We’re hearing that the doctors have said his arm and shoulder can’t be “damaged” or further impaired by throwing – and there isn’t any reason to doubt any of that.

And let’s say this so that it’s as clear as possible – anyone who is suggesting that Mark Dantonio is being irresponsible with Lewerke’s health doesn’t deserve to be listened to.

We can debate the manner in which Dantonio is currently using Lewerke and Rocky Lombardi – that’s, of course, a very fair debate.

When Dantonio sent Lombardi out there late in the first half, it sure did feel as though Lombardi gave the Spartans a burst of energy.

Lombardi led the Spartans on a 7-play, 49-yard drive that resulted in a Matt Coghlin 44-yard field goal to make the score 7-3 and things were, actually, looking pretty good.

When Cody White completed a perfectly-timed and perfectly-called option pass to a wide open Matt Sokol in the endzone to give the Spartans what appeared to be a 10-7 lead, how many of you were confident that yet another masterpiece theater was very much in process?

If you’re thinking to yourself that you did not think the masterpiece theater was in motion, you’re lying to yourself right now.

Kevin Jarvis was, indeed, illegally downfield and it’s a shame because it was one of those tough, very close situations where he was right on the edge and he was sort of in no-man’s land.

Would Michigan State have beaten the Buckeyes if White-to-Sokol was clean and the 10-7 lead held?

Probably not – but the rest of the game sure would have gone differently.

Rocky Lombardi showed he has a ways to go over the course of back-to-back plays that might be among the ugliest back-to-back plays of the Dantonio Era when he mistimed the snap that led to Ohio State recovering the ball in the endzone for a touchdown and then made a rough pitch right into La’Darius Jackson’s shoulder pad and the Buckeyes recovered that turnover.

Tough sequence right there.

And let’s be very clear about what was probably the most consequential dynamic of the game on Saturday – Ohio State’s punt team, as a whole, demonstrated to anyone who doesn’t think the punt is an important part of football that Mark Dantonio is right when he says it’s maybe the most important play in any given game.

Ohio State’s Drue Crisman had 9 punts that totaled 340 yards – and the average of 37.8 yards is the least revealing average in the history of punting averages since his kicks led to Michigan State starting 6 straight possessions from its own 5, 6, 3, 1, 2 yard lines.

The Buckeyes’ punt unit was sensational in keeping a couple of those boots from the endzone and making sure the Spartans were starting the possession with their backs right, smack up against the wall.

NOW WHAT?

What to do about the quarterback situation now?

Mark Dantonio doesn’t really have a “quarterback” challenge – he has yet another injury situation.

The team has been riddled by injuries ever since Josiah Scott went down in August.

And now that injury bug has made its ugly way to the quarterback position and that’s sort of all there is to it.

Considering the realities associated with Michigan State’s record, final two games, bowl outlook, etc, it says here that there really isn’t even much of a “decision” to be made.

Rest Brian Lewerke.

Give the guy the break – physically and mentally – he needs and let him get that shoulder back to full strength so he can start, right now, looking towards what can be a big senior season.

Send Rocky Lombardi out there, tell him he’s the quarterback for the remainder of the season and leave it at that.

Assure Lewerke he’s the man and this is all about getting back to full strength for the good of the football program and for his own good.

This would relieve these two guys, would make it clear to them what’s going on, and would give Rocky Lombardi a great opportunity to learn and grow as the team’s quarterback of the future.

REALITY CHECK

Let’s also take a moment for a reality check.

If Michigan State can defeat Nebraska in Lincoln this Saturday – a challenge, of course – it would have every reason to think that an 8-4 regular season finish would be more than attainable with Rutgers as the home finale.

For many of us, there were many, many years when an 8-4 record would be reason to be excited.

Make no mistake – SpartansWire is going to be extremely bullish in the lead-up to the 2019 season due to many of the same reasons we were bullish heading into this season.

But when an 8-4 season is viewed as a “disappointment,” it shows in a pretty real way just how high the standards have become thanks to a sensational period that’s been alive and well for more than a decade now.

And so with two games to go in what has been a frustrating season for a team that entered this season with the highest of expectations, the goals and possibilities become pretty clear:

Get two important victories, starting with what would be a great win at Lincoln.

I don’t care what anyone wants to say about the 2018 Huskers – defeating Nebraska in Lincoln isn’t ever a gimme and it would be a very real boost for a team that needs to earn one.

Best case scenario for this Michigan State gang right now is a final regular season record of 8-4 with a possible bowl victory in a nice, warm spot over some overrated SEC team to wrap up 2018 with a very respectable 9-4 mark.

Worst case scenario is a final regular season record of 7-5 and a loss in a bowl game to limp to 7-6 season, not at all unlike the 2012 season.

Anyone remember what happened after that 2012 season?

Hang in there, folks.

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