And you thought last week was rock bottom.
Three things that stuck out from MSU’s terrible road loss to Indiana.
1. The offense is broken
The natural instinct for anyone who watched this game is to blame Tyler O’Connor for all of the offense’s woes but he’s not solely responsible.
The offensive line was subpar. They were bullied all night and never able to establish much of a rhythm for the offense. They rotated a lot of guys in, which is a great way to keep them fresh nice but looked like it may have caused some communication issues.
The play calling was suspect. MSU ran the ball 41 times and threw it 35, which is a good ratio, but 11 of those runs were by O’Connor, tying LJ Scott for the team lead. Why waste carries on him? MSU has three very good running backs (although Gerald Holmes field vision continues to be a major issue) and O’Connor is far from a dynamic runner. Can he get the job done when he needs to? Sure but he should not be toting the rock as often as Scott.
Finally, O’Connor was downright bad. I will say I liked the deep shots down the field. TO’C looked better and probably threw the best pass of his life on the 86-yard beaut to RJ Shelton. He also had what probably was another long touchdown dropped by Donnie Corley.
His final line (21/35 - 263 yards - 3 TD / 0 INT) looks great but is quite deceiving. Take away the Shelton bomb and it read 20/34 - 177 - 2 TD. Respectable, but that’s as far as I’m willing to go. This is Indiana, after all.
If you ignore the numbers and go based on the eye-test O’Connor was bad the entire game. He missed easy completions, made poor reads and when the game was on the line in overtime took two horrible sacks to push MSU into deep field goal range. Naturally, Michael Geiger missed the kick.
He is far from the only problem, but his limitations as a passer are obvious and exacerbated by poor play calling, really stupid penalties and subpar offensive line play.
When those all happen in the same game, losses like this will happen.
2. Craig Evans and Montez Sweat are missed, big time
The D-Line was going to be an issue this year after losing so many seniors and having a handful of transfers to boot but, man, this team misses Craig Evans and Montez Sweat, badly.
For the fourth straight game, MSU was unable to establish any consistent pass rush. Even with Malik McDowell looking completely unblockable at times, the defense was only able to land two tackles for loss and zero sacks.
This game could have gotten majorly out of hand if Richard Lagow had a better night throwing the ball.
The hope was Gabe Sherrod, Kevin Williams and even Evan Jones would help until the pups were ready, but none have made a real impact. Evans and Sweat had a chance to be difference makers and you’re seeing what happens when a team loses two players who were poised to contribute to a critical position group.
Now Dantonio has no choice but to get the youngsters playing time which leads me to my final point.
3. The full-blown youth movement is underway
Mark Dantonio has never been afraid to burn a redshirt if he thinks it helps his team, but this season he’s taken it to a new level.
Seven true freshman played last night — Donnie Corley, Trishton Jackson, Josh King, Justin Layne, Thiyo Lukusa, Mike Panasiuk and Auston Robertson — and they may not be the last.
Some make more sense than others. The defensive linemen — King, Panasiuk and Robertson — need to play. As noted above the mass exodus of lineman from a year ago didn’t leave the cupboards full. A similar but hopefully less-crippling defection is coming to the offensive line after this season so getting Lukusa ready for a starting gig is wise.
The more confusing group is the wideouts. Corley, Jackson and Layne all look that part but when you can’t throw the ball and have guys like Monty Madaris, RJ Shelton and Felton Davis already in the playing group do you really need ALL of them? Probably not.
Now for the most important question, what to do at quarterback?
I didn’t come into this game ready to pull the plug, nor do I think Dantonio will be in a rush to do so but justifying playing TO’C is getting very difficult, especially when they’re already going young everywhere else.
Suggesting that a redshirt freshman like Brian Lewerke, whom we know very little about, take over for a fifth-year senior midseason is usually something reserved for the message boards, but after last night you have to ask a few questions before deciding who should be under center going forward.
First, how far can this team go with Tyler O’Connor as its starting quarterback? At this point, its hard to picture MSU being better than seven or eight win team. Opponents once seen as surefire wins — BYU, Northwestern, Maryland — now look like 50/50 games. He is not the sole reason but he is a big reason.
Can you confidently say that Lewerke would be any less effective than what we have seen so far from O’Connor? Yes, he has won big games but he’s also captained two of the worst losses of the last 10 years and done so in back to back weeks. How much can starting Brian Lewerke really hurt?
Ultimately, the decision comes down to this: is it worth investing in a fifth-year senior over a redshirt freshman?
Do you really want to wait out the O’Connor learning curve (assuming it’s even there) only to have him leave after one season or would you rather get Lewerke game experience, help him develop a rapport with the young wideouts and prepare to be the starter next year and beyond?
The answer should be fairly obvious.
After falling to 0-2 in the Big Ten in embarrassing fashion the opportunity cost of starting O’Connor over Lewerke is too great to ignore.
BONUS: What is targeting?
Disclaimer: MSU cannot blame the loss on this call. They had plenty of chances to go out and win this game long before this took place. But...
This was a targeting call and an ejection. Somehow. https://t.co/7vC2zSpYrL— The Cauldron (ICYMI) (@CauldronICYMI) October 2, 2016
How the hell is that Targeting?
The reasoning, I suppose, is that he led with the crown of his helmet, but that only applies when the hit is to the shoulders or above. Even the announcers say “He’s not even close to the head”.
Not only was McDowell ejected at a critical juncture late in this game, but he’s also suspended for the first half next week against BYU — who, incidentally, had a running back go for 260+ last week.
Again, MSU had plenty of chances to win this game before this happened but that doesn’t diminish how horrible of a call it was.