Normally, I wait until Sunday night/Monday morning to post the recap, but I feel like doing it now.
Never has a 2-0 start been so discouraging. I don't think there's anyone who belives MSU has a shot at Notre Dame. Right now, bowl eligibility is the focus. That's how dreadful this start is.
Now, this isn't the John L. Smith era, with losses to Rutgers or Louisiana Tech, but you'd be hard-pressed to find an offense worse than MSU's in the entire country.
The numbers say it all.
-MSU's offense scored seven points against USF. FCS McNeese State scored 53 points on the Bulls last week. The lone MSU touchdown was a 43-yard drive. The comes after the offense realistically score nine points against Western Michigan last week.
- MSU averaged 3.9 yards per pass attempt. Sure, this was better than last week's 3.1 yards per attempt, but it's still terrible. Connor Cook was at 2.9 YPA. Andrew Maxwell was 4.4 YPA and Tyler O'Connor was 5.5 YPA.
- MSU has gone nine straight games without scoring more than 26 points, with opponents including Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, Western Michigan and South Florida.
Where do we go from here? I'm really tempted to end this recap right now, but I know it's my job to keep some sort of order on this site. So I'll keep going with the normal recap layout. More offensive thoughts below.
Looking back at my three keys
Turnovers: Two by the offense. Once by Connor Cook when he was indecisive and then not protective of the ball when he got sacked. The other was by Andre Sims Jr. on a punt return deep in MSU territory late in the half. MSU's defense held USF to a field goal. On the other side, the defense against had two touchdowns: a fumble recovery for Shilique Calhoun and an interception return.
Run the ball: MSU's running backs averaged 5.7 yards per carry (24 carries for 137 yards). Once again, I'm not sure why MSU isn't running the ball more. And don't do out of the wildcat. There was also a 21-yard run by Aaron Burbridge, seven yards on two carries by R.J. Shelton, and Connor Cook had 10 yards on nine carries. Run to set up the pass, maybe?
Negative plays by defense: I already mentioned the touchdowns. The defense also had three sacks and six tackles for loss, five passes broken up and 11 quarterback hurries.
Load up the box: They frequently did, daring MSU to pass against them, and MSU couldn't. USF got constant pressure on MSU QBs, but the Spartan running backs did well.
Turnovers: Take away the two turnovers for touchdowns, and USF's offense was only outscored 7-6.
Big plays on offense: There was a 24-yard run and a 25-yard pass, but that was it.
Now, looking at all side of the ball for MSU:
I'll start by saying this: If you think putting Damion Terry in will fix problems, you're not watching the game. They can't pass block. Donovan Clark especially is providing very little on the left side right now. MSU needs Fou Fonoti 100 percent so Jack Conklin can move over there. You can't throw downfield when you don't have time.
The receivers remain a huge problem. I can only recall maybe one or two drops? But they're just not getting open. The route-running is not crisp, and it still feels like everything goes to the outside. Where are quarterbacks supposed to go when their first few reads are covered?
As for quarterback, I was pretty stunned to see Cook start, but apparently that decision was made early in the week. Cook got the first quarter and was dreadful. He came in and led a touchdown in the fourth quarter, but it was basically because of one pass to Burbridge. Cook finished 6-for-11 for 32 yards. Take away the pass to Burbridge, and it's 5-for-10 for 12 yards. He doesn't have good footwork in the pocket, he's not accurate and he doesn't make the best decisions. I think MSU needs to remove him from the race. They have to start narrowing this down.
Tyler O'Connor came in as the backup. He played in the second quarter and went 2-for-4 for 22 yards, with completions of nine and 13 yards. On his best drive, he completed a 13-yard pass to Macgarret Kings. Then MSU was hit with a 15-yard penalty. O'Connor hit Jeremy Langford on a dump-off for nine yards. Burbridge took a reverse for 21 yards. Shelton rushed for eight. O'Connor lost five on a QB rush at the three-yard line (odd call). Then O'Connor threw to the end zone and it should have been picked. It wasn't, and Kevin Muma missed a 25-yard field goal. So a decent drive with big plays, but it fell apart in the end zone. I'm fine with seeing more of O'Connor moving forward, but on the post-game radio interview, it's clear that near interception did not please the coaches.
Andrew Maxwell started the second half. MSU got back to running the ball and moved into USF territory. Then, on 3rd and 1, Riley Bullough took a wildcat snap for a loss of a few, and MSU ran a shovel pass that was short of the first down marker. MSU had a drive going, and they completely changed what they were doing. I didn't understand those calls at all. On his second drive, Maxwell had an 18-yard completion to Mumphrey on 3rd down, a great job of stepping up and delivering a great throw. Maxwell had a great-looking deep ball to Bennie Fowler, but he caught it just out of bounds. Could Maxwell's throw been a little better? Yeah. Could Fowler have done a better job of staying inbounds? Yeah. But it was a shot, at least. Two incompletions and a negative run by Hill ended that drive.
At that point, Maxwell was 4-for-9 for 40 yards, and I thought he was the best-looking QB at that point, even if the offense still had major struggles. But it was Cook who came in and led the lone touchdown drive, even if he only completed one pass on it.
Damion Terry reportedly had strep throat and a thumb issue and didn't practice this week. He was never going to see the field.
This is the part where I give my desire for the offense moving forward.
First, run the ball more. I understand trying to get something out of the quarterbacks and getting them in a rhythm, but MSU is a better rushing team than passing team. MSU's offense is playing even with opposing offenses, and that won't work.
My choice for quarterback? Maxwell. At this point, you can't change the offense. Trying to use a run-first quarterback with a playbook suited for him, I don't know if that's a realistic option. Maxwell knows the playbook better than anyone.
But that brings me to my second point: Speed up the offense. Like, a lot. Against USF, MSU held the ball for 30:39 and ran just 62 plays. That's a snail's pace of one play every 29.6 seconds of possession. For reference, last week, MSU was at 25.2 seconds. Now, MSU doesn't have to be Oregon (16.7 seconds per play last week), but they have to speed this up. All the pressure is on MSU's offense. Put it on the opposing defense. Any time MSU finally has a good pickup, the defense is able to recuperate, and MSU goes so slow that any momentum is lost.
You can't change the playbook at this point. They're stuck with what they have. Use it, use it quickly, and use the quarterback that knows it. Unless the offensive line suddenly starts blocking and the receivers start running good routes, it's futile to keep doing what you're doing. Try to catch the defense off-guard. Have you seen MSU's defense? They can handle defending a few more possessions. You're going three-and-out every other drive anyway. This ball control offense that goes nowhere is not going to win any games. It has nearly lost these first two.
SpartanMag's Matt Dorsey had a good line: MSU is trying to treat the symptoms. They need to treat the cause. Different players aren't going to make a big difference, at this point.
Avg drive length by QB through 2 games: Maxwell: 22.8 yards (11 drives) Cook: 15.9 yards (11 drives) O'Connor 36.5 yards (2 drives)— KJ (@KJatTOC) September 7, 2013
To recap: I say go with Maxwell and speed it up, with Tyler O'Connor (and a slower offense) as the backup. I'm sure some of you disagree.
What's there to say? This defense looks much more disruptive than a year ago, which the numbers show, but the quality of competition is still notable. Still, MSU had zero defensive touchdowns last year. Shilique Calhoun has three of his own already, plus Kurtis Drummond's lateraled touchdown from the WMU game.
Denicos Allen looks like his 2011 self, getting into the backfield all the time. It did seem like the MSU linebackers were coming from the outside quite a bit, and USF caught MSU with some draw runs up the middle a few times.
Darqueze Dennard dropped a pick-six, was beat deep once and Isaiah Lewis seemed to make some uncharacteristic mistakes, but let's be real. This first-team defense has basically allowed 10 points this season, while scoring four touchdowns and being responsible for a field goal.
It's at the point where giving up a first down feels like a defeat, and getting a first down on offense feels like a victory.
Mike Sadler continued his Heisman push with seven punts, an average of 45.6 yards, one touchback and four inside the
Kevin Muma missed a 25-yard field goal from the hash. Didn't push it enough. He's 2-for-3 on the year, with all of the attempts being very close. So the jury is still out on how he is.
Andre Sims averaged 3.8 yards on five punt returns. He didn't break any, but again, just the fact he's had the change to return them is an improvement, but don't fumble the ball inside MSU's 20 again.
The crowd for the Youngstown State game is going to be dreadful. It's so hard to watch this offense play on TV. I can't imagine what it's like to see it work poorly so slowly in real life.
Going forward, I've laid out my thoughts about what needs to be done. Putting in different quarterbacks didn't work. Putting in some different receivers didn't work (Where were Lippett, Mumphrey and Fowler?). You can't change what you have. You can change what you do with it.
It was interesting to read this RCMB thread from a year ago.
Bottom line: MSU is 2-0, and there are a lot of teams that aren't. They still have opportunity to improve.
Also, Tom Izzo is awesome.