Michigan State was shown how far they are from a top team by a more talented Michigan team. The 49 to 0 loss could have been a lot worse. Multiple dropped interceptions and a mental mistake by Michigan at the end of the first half kept the score as low as it was - which was not low.
This outcome was largely expected, yet MSU did some strange things that raised some serious questions about the future. Here’s the rundown:
Questions Coming Into the Game:
Does this year feel like the most lopsided rivalry matchup for these two teams in the 21st century?
Yes. Coming into this game it has not felt like these two programs were in as clearly different places in decades. Michigan is playing for national title relevance and Michigan State is play to be relevant as a football team. Those are different stages. In the 90s, you might have seen this type of disparity, but coming off the Iowa and Rutgers losses, Michigan State looks more lost than they have in a very long time. Michigan on the other hand has taken care of business in basically every game this year - even if those games haven’t been the most challenging.
All of that leaves a sense of a game between two very very different programs.
Will Jim Harbaugh bother being his normal terrible self in the leadup to the rivalry game?
Jim Harbugh was notably muted this week in the build up. There were two likely reasons for this: 1- MSU’s ongoing crisis and quality of play left it a poor target for the type of what not that comes out of coach Harbaugh’s mouth in most years. 2- Michigan is facing its own scandal and was pretty distracted by that.
The allegations of sign stealing meant the week was dominated more by questions of if MSU would play the game (there were rumors they would pull out) rather than how well MSU would play in the game. In the end, MSU chose to play but Michigan spent the later part of the week talking almost exclusively about the allegations.
How will the allegations of sign stealing impact this game?
This question technically wasn’t on the list from last week, but it obviously became a big topic mid way through the week. The timing means this question came up before the game so it goes into this section.
The press covered the topic a lot, as it has for the few days leading up to the game. In a positive for MSU’s PR team, the topic got more early coverage than the rehash of last year’s ugly tunnel incident.
Functionally during the game MSU did call plays verbally from coach to the QB and in the huddle. That change was the most obvious in the game. It did not seem to impact the Spartans in any performance ways. Still interesting to see the adjustment in calling plays. Clearly MSU thinks there might be something to the allegations.
What can Katin Houser do against Michigan to prove he is the guy long term? Or does next week become a mulligan too?
Katin Houser brings a confidence and swagger to the field that Noah Kim never seemed to. It could be as simple as the size differential. Kim always looked slender and small. Houser looks more like a legit Big Ten quarterback. It changes the way it feels watching the game. Unfortunately, that image is the best contribution Houser made in the first half.
Houser was consistently off target. No less than four throws in the first quarter and a half should have been interceptions. Houser was simply lucky Michigan defenders didn’t come up with the ball. At least three of those four were simply bad throws (rather than forced situations by Michigan).
The opening to the second half initially looked a lot better. It almost immediately morphed to even worse as Houser’s luck ran out. A 72-yard pick six on an absolutely terrible throw by Houser confirmed the worst fears of the first half.
Going from a first game in the rain to the second game against a top 4 team in the country makes a true read on Houser difficult. That said, the early returns in both games are a QB who has been lucky not to have 7 interceptions in his first 6 quarters of action as a starter. The fact that he had one in the first few minutes of his 7th quarter of action just made it feel even worse.
Will Michigan State fire its Special Teams coach? Or will there be signs of improvement?
The first notable special teams play of the game came at the end of the 1st quarter where an MSU punt was flagged for an illegal formation. There have to be few things simpler in this game than lining up correctly on a punt. And yet MSU has turned this into the hardest thing this team does every week.
MSU will almost undoubtedly not fire anyone mid season considering they already fired the head coach. If there were ever a time to do it though, this unit’s leader needs to go now. These players couldn’t be worse if they just figured it out for themselves.
Can Michigan State’s offense score an actual touchdown against Michigan?
Nope. Michigan’s defense had more than enough to stifle the Spartans less than stellar offense. Katin Houser had a rough game, that very easily could have been a lot worse. The two series helmed by Sam Leavitt didn’t do much to spark the offense even against the backups.
Will the Michigan game actually show us anything about Michigan State?
It showed that the talent on the Spartan roster is lacking. This game was lost by the talent divide.
The coaching didn’t help. The individual play of QB Katin Houser didn’t save them. Instead, the team got rolled by better athletes in all facets of the game. With the exception of Nathan Carter, almost every single player for MSU looked over matched.
Beyond that, it showed MSU is undisciplined.
Is it basketball season yet?
Almost. And it still can’t come fast enough. Michigan State tried to make today about basketball when they could. The Spartan Men’s basketball team played an open to the public scrimmage. Tom Izzo made an appearance at half time. It’s clear the University knows they need the basketball team to salvage the mess the football team has made this year.
Questions Coming During the Game
How much of a crisis is the penalty situation?
This shouldn’t be a question. It should just be a statement, but the format of this article requires it to be in the form of a question (like a terrible version of Jeopardy). Michigan State finds ways to commit penalties in the most inopportune times. In the first half this was mostly restricted to the Special Teams unit (the enemy of the entire team at this point), yet the start of the second half saw the sloppiness cripple a promising opening drive.
MSU made some adjustments at half and Katin Houser looked like a confident QB. The opening drive looked like MSU had finally found some offense. Then it committed an illegal motion penalty. Then it committed an ineligible man downfield. That destroyed all momentum and left MSU going for it on 4th and 7. That decision led to a TERRIBLE interception thrown by Houser that was a pick-six.
Adding salt to the wound was an MSU personal foul that saw an offensive lineman get ejected from the game. This is an emotional game for sure. These mistakes were avoidable, and speak to a problem in the coaching.
Should Sam Leavitt have played in this game?
No. Not yet. Because of the idiocy where Leavitt was given one series in the 4th game of the year, he only had 3 games left before he burns his red shirt. Wasting a second of those four games in a lost game against Michigan was irresponsible.
Houser deserves a longer shot. The Rutgers game had some positives and it was rain soaked. No Spartan QB was going to look good against Michigan. Yes, Houser played badly in this game. Still, Kim was given five games. Houser should have been given a bit more without having to see his potential replacement take the field for the final quarter.
What does Sam Leavitt bring to the field?
It looks like accuracy. Leavitt is physically a bit smaller than Houser - though larger than Kim. He also got hit a lot more than Houser, which seemed to be the offensive line just giving up late in the game. With those challenges, Leavitt still created some positive yardage.
Leavitt faced Michigan’s backups, which means it is hard to take too much of a lesson from his play. Still, he looked the part and distributed the ball well when he could stay upright. His interception was off a drop by Tre Mosley. It’s recorded as a Leavitt interception, but did not look like a bad throw.
Questions for Next Week
- Should Sam Leavitt start next week?
- Can the Spartan punt team learn to line up correctly?
- Will the Spartan players look motivated after this blow out?
- Can Michigan State stay focused enough to play well against a more evenly matched opponent in Minnesota?
- Is it Basketball season yet?