A collapse in all phases in the game doomed Michigan State to its loss. This loss seemed to crystalize some hard truths for the Spartans. The game didn’t give the outcome the Spartan fan base wanted, perhaps some of the answers will help moving forward.
Questions Coming Into the Game:
How many players will decide it’s time to enter the transfer portal and/or sit out the rest of the season due to the chaos surrounding the Mel Tucker situation?
A few high profile recruits have decommitted from Michigan State. That is going to continue as Michigan State will play almost the entire year with a lame duck coaching staff and no real sell to recruits about the future of the program. Beyond that, this game did not see the exodus from the program that many had worried would happen.
That could be different with the bye week giving everyone time to absorb the formal termination of Mel Tucker and the mental impact of this loss.
Will we see more of Katin Houser? What about Sam Leavitt?
Surprisingly no. The game was winnable till the final 4 minutes, so it may have been a sense of keeping your starter in there as the best chance to win. That said, after the second interception of the game, and an offense that wasn’t generating any sustained drives in the second half it felt like time for another quarterback. The coaches stuck with Kim and you have to hope they know why.
Has the defense found a potentially winning (or at least semi competent) strategy in blitzing from the secondary?
For the second week in a row the answer is a qualified yes. MSU’s defense bottled up Iowa for most of the game. While they were helped by facing a second string QB for most of the game, the pressure MSU was able to bring was notable.
Even better than the previous week is the pressure came from all three levels. Instead of needing to send a defensive back to get pressure, the front four were causing problems for much of the game.
In the second half MSU started sending linebackers up the middle on almost every single play. It did lead to a few more completions by Iowa, it also caused a ton of problems. If the secondary could have stopped committing pass interference penalties there would have been a lot less opportunities for Iowa.
Will Jay Johnson finally adjust his play calling to suit young QBs who desperately need rhythm?
Offensive coordinator Jay Johnson seems dedicated to doing things his own way. Opening the game with a trick play reverse and requiring QB Noah Kim to roll out to his left on his first throw screams a play caller that just wants to do what he wants to do.
Even with the flashy start to the play calling, overall Johnson does seem to be using Kim more effectively this game. They have not forced him into high tempo offensive snaps. Instead they seemed to be mixing in runs and letting Kim use the receivers he’s clearly most comfortable with - like Maliq Carr. They even deployed Kim as a runner more consistently.
After the 2nd quarter interception, Johnson dialed up an easy swing pass to a receiver that clearly helped Kim get back to being comfortable.
Unfortunately, from there the offense lost all cohesive competence. Kim started throwing the ball away on almost every play, and missed the few receivers who could get open. At this point the offense doesn’t look competent enough to run an offense, so maybe it’s not all Johnson’s play calling.
Can Michigan State actually use the up tempo approach after first downs effectively?
Thankfully the up tempo approach disappeared in this game. It had mostly negative results in the previous two games. Letting Noah Kim get set before each play seemed to help in the first half. Nothing helped in the second half.
Will Michigan State stay aggressive on play calling game moment decisions (like 4th down decisions)?
Yes. Michigan State had a decision on 4th and 2 at the start of the 2nd quarter and followed the recent blueprint and went for it. Iowa helped on the play going offsides and QB Noah Kim showed good awareness and pushed the ball downfield. Even though it fell incomplete, it was smart quarterbacking.
MSU lining up and going for it with 36 seconds left in the first half was also another good sign. MSU had the luxury of the ball to start the second half and still went for it with three timeouts left. That takes game planning early on to save those timeouts and willingness to move aggressively. Ending the half with a 57-yard field goal was a huge boost going into the locker room.
While aggressive is good, you can live and die by it. The third quarter decision to go for it on 4th and 1 on their own 28 did not seem like the right choice. Nathan Carter had just turned in a breathtaking 14 yard run to even get them there. This offensive line has not displayed it can convert 4th and 1s enough, and in a 16-10 game, the punt may have been the better choice.
Can Michigan State limit the turnovers?
Less is not always enough. The first half still had a bad interception. The second half had two interceptions and a fumble. Technically one less than the previous week. Still, these offensive turnovers are why the game was lost.
Questions Coming From of the Game
Penalties - what is going on?
A question coming into last week was if Michigan State could limit the penalties. Last week that was an area of some improvement minus a few bone headed moments. In this game penalties kept popping up. Often in painfully inopportune moments. Negating gains, or tacking on extra yardage to big gains by Iowa. Coach Barnett has made them a focus of a few of his press conferences, yet it doesn’t seem like the team is internalizing it. Michigan State has no room for error of any kind. The self inflicted ones made this game unwinnable.
Is Noah Kim the running QB really a good strategy?
The concern on Noah Kim coming into the season was his size. We’ve seen the team use him as a runner a few times already this year. This game felt like they used it even more. Kim seems to have the ability to make a few people miss but he is not as fast as you might expect from a smaller guy. The running seems to keep Kim engaged and give him confidence in the offensive line, so even if not the best approach it may be key to keeping confidence levels high.
When is it time to see another QB? If its not after 2 games in a row with 2+ interceptions, what about a second half where the offense doesn’t move?
Iowa was the team that lost its starting QB on the second series, yet Michigan State looked like the team with an offense that couldn’t find the gas. Noah Kim was sharp for much of the first half except for that interception in the end zone. After he opened the second half with a terrible interception he turned into mr. cautious. That attitude led to some smart throwaways, but it also led to an anemic offense.
If it weren’t for Nathan Carter’s ability to make yards out of thin air, the offense essentially didn’t move in the second half. Living with Kim’s growing pains still seems worth it when he is flashing near double digit consecutive completions. When the offense simply stops moving, that is a big problem.
Questions for Next Week
- How many players will enter the transfer portal during the bye week?
- Which QB should start at Rutgers and how is that choice justified?
- Can the defense continue its recent run of good play?
- Can Michigan State stop turning the ball over?
- Can Michigan State limit its penalties?
- Which version of the special teams will show up?