Recap: Fly Like An Eagle Dodging A Bullet

Mike Carter-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

The final numbers didn't look too bad, but anyone who watched the game knows how close MSU was to being upset by Eastern Michigan. Mark Dantonio watched the game, if you couldn't tell by the video above (or if you knew anything about football).

Coming into the game, the hope was MSU would be able to work out the kinks in the passing game by cruising to a win. That wasn't the case. MSU struggled do to anything through the air and needed some late touchdowns to pull away from the Eagles in a 23-7 victory.

First, looking back at my keys to the game.

MSU:

Offense line improves all around: The running game was there (44 rushes for 269 yards), but it was supposed to be, as EMU was giving up more than 300 yards on the ground entering the game. MSU didn't give up a sack, either. The line play was OK, but it really would have only been notable if they weren't.

Some receivers step up: Uhhhh, no. Dion Sims (6 catches, 112 yards, 1 TD) was the only reliable pass-catcher again. Bennie Fowler led the receivers with four catches for 19 yards, but he dropped a touchdown for the second straight week and fumbled on a bubble screen — which resulted in EMU's only score of the game. It seemed like everyone had a drop. That's back-to-back weeks with more than six drops from the group, and they seem to be regressing. This is a major problem, as Dantonio noted above. Still, the catching part of the passing game should be the easier part (more on that in my Monday Freep column).

Defense doesn't allow big plays: The Eagles had six plays of 10 yards or more, and four of them were catches by tight end Garrett Hoskins (8 catches, 102 yards). One of the others was a 23-yard touchdown pass. The Eagles finished with 183 total yards, but a dropped touchdown pass in the third quarter nearly put the Eagles up by double-digits and may have won the game for EMU, given how MSU's offense was going. As I've said before, the margin for error is so small.

EMU:

Win the turnover battle: It ended up even. Neither team threw an interception, but both lost one fumble (MSU also recovered one of its own). The lone MSU turnover did lead to EMU's touchdown, so it was a factor.

Find success running the ball outside: Nope. EMU didn't have any success on the ground, averaging 1.6 yards on 29 rushing attempts (one sack)

Get to the quarterback: Also nope. MSU didn't allow a sack, but did allow moderate pressure.

Now, thoughts on both sides of the ball for MSU.

Offense:

Maxwell finished 16-for-29 for 159 yards and one touchdown. Considering all the drops, that's not that terrible. As mentioned above, Sims was again the only reliable person to catch the ball. Credit to Maxwell for staying positive and still playing well with zero faith in the outside receivers.

Le'Veon Bell (36 carries, 253 yards, 1 TD) should return to the Heisman conversation, bad defense or not. I'm not sure why Bell stayed in the game so long, including the 40-yard run late, but he continues to be a horse. I'm sure Dantonio didn't like giving him 40 touches in the game, but he had to. I also don't like the idea of him returning punts, but it's clear the coaches don't trust anyone else after Nick Hill muffed his second punt of the season.

MSU finished with 428 yards of offense, but 191 of those came in the fourth quarter. That's 237 yards through three quarters against one of the worst defenses in the country. Good to see they finished strong, but this is a problem.

Defense:

The defense continues to be stout. EMU registered 183 yards of total offense, completed 50 percent of passes and went 2-for-14 on third down. The D has held opponents to 3-for-28 on third down in the last two games, yet the team lost to ND and almost lost to EMU.

Max Bullough was all over the place making plays, finishing with nine tackles and one for loss. Denicos Allen seemed to have a great game for the first time this season, recording six tackles, one for loss, one sack, a forced fumble, a pass broken up and a QB hurry. Isaiah Lewis led MSU with 12 tackles. James Kittredge also had a solid performance on the inside. He had five tackles, 2.5 for loss and a QB hurry.

They're not perfect, but you can't ask for much more out of this group. They need some help.

Special teams:

Dan Conroy missed another field goal (39 yards) badly, which put him at 2-for-6 from less than 50 yards at the time. He rebounded to go 3-for-3 for the rest of the game (35, 44, 35), but he's missed one in each game this year.

Mike Sadler averaged 39.5 yards on six punts, and one was returned 24 yards. MSU's punt return team remains nonexistent. When Hill did have a chance for a return, he fumbled, and Bell came in. Someone needs to earn some trust, because Bell returning (or at least being back there for them) is bad news.

Conclusions:

A win's a win, but man, that felt like it was going to be a loss for a long time. Admit it: You thought about Mike Hart's reaction if EMU had won that game.

The worst-case scenario for the offense entering the season has arrived. The optimist that I am, I know drops can be fixed. You did the hard stuff: getting open and getting the throw there, you just have to finish the play. Dantonio knows Saturday was a huge missed opportunity. I wouldn't be surprised if he apologized to the media on Tuesday, but he was flat-out calling out the receivers, because it's not acceptable anymore, from his point of view.

Beat Ohio State, and suddenly things look really good again. The conference is terrible enough that just a little bit of success from the offense could be enough.

Next question.

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