Heading into the 2018 football season, many — including myself — believed the Michigan State Spartans would win nine to 10 games and play a January bowl game. The team returned the most production in college football and was looking to build off of a very impressive 2017 season.
Fast forward to late November and I think it’s safe to say that many MSU fans are disappointed with a 7-5 record, a nonexistent offense and an outstanding defense that was wasted away. The final game of the regular season — in which Michigan State struggled mightily, but eventually defeated a one-win Rutgers team — pretty much told the story of this frustrating campaign.
Yes, MSU is going bowling, but I don’t think the New Era Pinstripe Bowl or the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl are particularly events to get excited for when this team had a chance at a Rose Bowl.
Losses to Arizona State, Northwestern and Nebraska were not ideal. When looking at the preseason schedule, I figured those would be wins. And Northwestern is indeed a solid football team that has MSU’s number, and will compete in the Big Ten title game, but losing to the Wildcats at home (on homecoming, no less) was not a good look. While a good team, losing to Michigan is never fun, and the defense kept the team in it against Ohio State, but the offense was pathetic.
There are a few reasons why things went so wrong: injuries, poor play-calling, tough competition and just a complete lack of playmakers on offense and inconsistent offensive line play.
Let’s just recap some of the injuries. The following players missed time this season:
- QB Brian Lewerke
- RB LJ Scott
- WR Felton Davis III
- WR Cody White
- WR Darrell Stewart Jr.
- OL Cole Chewins
- OL Matt Allen
- OL David Beedle
- OL Kevin Jarvis
- OL Luke Campbell
- WR Jalen Nailor
- DE Jacub Panasiuk
- CB Josiah Scott
- CB Josh Butler
- CB Tyson Smith
- P Jake Hartbarger
- P Tyler Hunt
This is not even a complete list, but these are key players. All of which missed at least one game, while the majority of players mentioned missed multiple games, and a few had season-ending injuries. The offense was hit the hardest, and that showed all season. The wide receiver and offensive line were particularly depleted groups.
An underrated position group injury that absolutely hurt the Spartans was at punter. The team used five different punters on the season — which is almost unheard of — and MSU struggled to win the battle of field position all year long.
What saddens me the most is that the great play of the Michigan State defense was shadowed by the poor offensive output and overall performance. This is an elite unit, that ranks No. 1 against the rush, No. 14 in total defense and No. 2 in defensive S&P+ rankings (only behind Clemson).
No, I don’t think that Mark Dantonio is completely to blame, because honestly getting seven wins out of this team is kind of impressive in and of itself. However, he has to take a hard look at his offensive coaching staff and make changes. That starts with co-offensive coordinators Dave Warner and Jim Bollman, and particularly Warner who is responsible for play-calling. It’s not enough to win with just good defense anymore, and averaging less than 20 points per game is not going to cut it in today’s college game. There has to be changes on the coaching staff unless Dantonio is happy with a 7-5/8-4 status quo every year.
Prior to the Dantonio era, many Michigan State fans would have been happy with seven or eight wins and a bowl game. Not anymore. We, as MSU fans (I will rarely, if ever, say “we” when referring to the football program because I am not actually a part of it) have experienced Big Ten East divisional titles. We’ve tasted Big Ten Championships. We’ve been exhilarated with Rose Bowl wins. We saw the pinnacle of modern day college football by making into the College Football Playoff — it didn’t go so well, but making it into the final four of the NCAA is still an unprecedented accomplishment that not may schools can claim. We know what it feels like to beat rivals such as the Michigan Wolverines.
The point is Mark Dantonio accomplished all of this during his tenure, and for better or worse, there are going to be high expectations for this team as long as he is at the helm. This season was a major league disappointment in my book.